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Within minutes of stepping into a King Soopers in the southwestern suburbs the other day, I spotted two men without the face covers that the COVID-19 pandemic had needed for so long and that the store needed. One was an elderly man who wandered through the product department and, after a futile search, looked for a random vegetable that he couldn’t find, or possibly even recognize. The other was a sturdy, broad-shouldered guy in his thirties, dressed from head to toe in camouflage, making eye contact with masked buyers as he entered their room. His expression was somewhere between a half smile and a grin.
I said goodbye to both men as quickly as possible, but inevitably ran into both of them within minutes. The second time, the older man wore a paper mask, suggesting that an employee or co-worker had either provided him with one or mentioned his bare mug, prompting him to put on a forgotten face covering he had with him. But Mr. Camo was still exposed and remained so for the rest of my visit. His demeanor reminded me of a slogan on a T-shirt I saw the other day: “Sorry, but I can’t hear you over the sound of my freedom!”
Expect such interactions to escalate in the coming weeks due to widespread confusion over Colorado’s newly updated mask order, which went into effect May 2nd.
Early coverage featured the streamlined scheme that allows people to expose themselves in groups of ten or more when at least 80 percent of them have been vaccinated, as a sign that things are getting closer to normal. However, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Education soon made it clear that the 80 percent rate needed to be verified by showing a vaccination card or other documentation. The honor system is not acceptable. The result was a variation on the vaccination record idea so slandered by anti-vaxxers and defiant loonbags who somehow decided that the supposed obligation to protect others was a limitation on their personal style.
In a matter of days, subway counties like Jefferson and Denver changed their masking rules to bring them in line with the state, and at a news conference on May 6, Denver Department of Public Health & Environment executive director Bob McDonald attempted the 80- Clarify percent mandate. He stressed that people who are asked to provide evidence that they have been vaccinated are not required to do so; The action is strictly voluntary. But if not enough people follow regulations and provide evidence to hit the 80 percent threshold, masks must continue to be worn indoors.
In addition, McDonald explained, grocery stores and retail stores of similar size to box stores are just too big for the 80 percent rule to be currently viable. With such settings he said, “We’ll keep the face covers in place a little longer.”
Even so, the rules remain so confusing that many people who have been vaccinated – and some who haven’t – believe they can go to stores without a mask. This puts employees and other customers in the awkward position of deciding whether it is safe to tell them something.
Like on my last King Soopers trip, other buyers are likely to get in touch if the exposed person (and let’s face it – it’s almost always men) looks benign. But if the exposed person is physically imposing or appears politically motivated, they just roll their eyes and walk away.
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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.