Starting tomorrow, November 20, both Denver and Jefferson counties will enter Level Red (Severe) on the dash dashboard created by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to help combat the spread of COVID-19. This is the highest category under the new Purple (Extreme) level, which requires closing all retail stores that are not deemed material. Under Level Red, such companies can remain open, but must remain below 50 percent capacity.

In anticipation of the move to Level Red, last Saturday, November 14th, we visited major malls in two counties – the Cherry Creek Mall in Denver and the Colorado Mills in Jeffco – to see how each was doing Behave the recommended safety protocols before moving in the red zone.

We found many positive signs, but also some examples of risky actions still taking place more than eight months after a global pandemic that has killed a quarter of a million people in the US and more than 2,300 in Colorado alone.

We entered the Cherry Creek Shopping Center via Nordstrom, where no one was watching the participants: just come in! This open door policy appeared to be the case in all of the mall’s largest department stores. Either the number of customers was counted electronically, or the managers assumed that the spaces were so large that capacity would not exceed 50 percent until the holiday season really starts – and that period is only a few days away.


Clockwise from top left: At Cherry Creek Mall, the Apple Store continued to set a high standard for entry; The Santa Claus camera is in operation despite the pandemic. Customers positioned themselves outside of Louis Vuitton.

Photos by Michael Roberts

Individual retailers – especially high-end national chains that undoubtedly have no liability – have been much stricter on the numbers. The Apple Store continues to be the gold standard. Customers have to queue up, wear masks and take temperature tests. The Peloton branch in Cherry Creek also took its time – a smart idea as people are likely to be climbing equipment rather than just looking at products on the shelves.

The vast majority of customers in the mall wore face coverings, if not always properly – and we saw slip-ups across the sexes. In the early months of the statewide mask ordinance, men were almost always the culprits when it came to leaving their nose (and sometimes their mouth) undisguised and embarrassingly thwarting the purpose of the items. But at Cherry Creek we saw almost as many women as men with their schnozz, which added to the roughly 5 to 10 percent of customers there who still hadn’t figured out how to wear masks properly.

Another chronic mask problem was people ordering snacks or drinks and then strolling through the mall with their face covers down instead of staying in the food court or other designated eating areas. We spotted several people walking around with lemonade cups while masks dangled from their ears. What we didn’t see, however, was security guards letting them know this was stupid and even less encouraging them to finish their meal at a physically distant table and mask themselves again before leaving the area.

And then there was Cherry Creek’s huge set of photos with Santa Claus – an activity that doesn’t seem safe, even when the funny old elf is completely enclosed in personal protective equipment. Ho, ho, no.

Clockwise from top left: some of the corridors in Colorado Mills were intermittently crowded;  Coin-operated high-touch attractions remained accessible;  Target and Levi's had immigration checkpoints.EXPAND

Clockwise from top left: some of the corridors in Colorado Mills were intermittently crowded; Coin-operated high-touch attractions remained accessible; Target and Levi’s had immigration checkpoints.

Photos by Michael Roberts

Christmas decorations could also be seen in Colorado Mills, as well as the noses of some women and men. The mask chinstrap was even more common in the Lakewood establishment. At least 10 percent of customers desperately needed a face covering tutorial.

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Naked strolling and sipping was also more common in Colorado Mills. Most worrying, however, were those who did not wear masks at all. We saw five uncovered shoppers for about half an hour, all of them men, from young adults who seemed unaware of the chances they should run if they were about to breathe around older relatives, to varieties of grizzly Seeing mask wearers as shepherds drawn to the “radical” notion that science is real.

The children’s playground at Mills was closed, like Cherry Creek. However, high-touch coin-operated attractions were still available for children of all ages – and there were no staff to disinfect them after use. What could possibly go wrong?

On the upside, some national retailers with stores in Colorado Mills require customers to line up and wait before entering. Outfits like Levi’s and Bath & Body Works have set mandates for their employees and appear to be working. But many local mom and pop stores can’t afford to pay someone to greet the COVID-19 era and rely on customers to make the right decisions.

If more shoppers fail to do so, these malls could be closed again just before the start of the Christmas shopping season.

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Michael Roberts has been writing for Westword since October 1990 and has worked as a music editor and media columnist. It currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.