Masks save lives – the Governor made the right call to require mask wearing

Health experts highlight how wearing a mask is a simple action we can all take to save lots of lives in Colorado. We all need to do it. 

The Katz family's masks

Today, Governor Polis announced a requirement for all of us to wear masks in public indoor places. It’s the right call.

Masks save lives.   

My colleague Abe Scarr in Illinois did a great job summing this up recently but let me steal a few highlights. 

  • More than 100 health and scientific leaders have signed a letter asking government officials to require people to wear cloth masks in all public places. The latest research indicates that “broad adoption of even relatively ineffective face masks may meaningfully reduce community transmission of COVID-19.” The key word here is “broad.” Scientists say that when at least 70 to 80 percent of people in a given area wear masks, that strongly protects the community against transmission of the virus. However, at 50 percent, the overall effectiveness is minimal. 
  • The Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, one of the leading research institutions tracking the COVID-19 pandemic, says if we can get 95 percent of people to wear face masks, at least 33,000 fewer people will die by October 1.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of confusion over the importance of wearing a mask. 

We’ve seen too many public officials disregard their part of the social contract and put the health of their constituents in jeopardy by remaining silent about  — or even worse, discouraging Americans from –wearing masks.

While a number cities in Colorado have required mask-wearing, we need a statewide mandate to achieve overall compliance rates that will be effective in stopping the spread of the virus.

As my colleague Abe highlighted – It’s never too late to start this type of policy – “Even when implemented at 120 days after the initiation of the epidemic, 100% adoption of facemasks by the public stops the occurrence of further COVID-19 epidemic waves,” researchers wrote in a British Royal Society article published in June.

Governor Polis’s mask requirement rightly provides exceptions for those who have legitimate medical barriers to compliance. That’s fine because if people with health conditions are the only ones without masks, we can still easily reach the 70-80 percent threshold for population-wide effectiveness.

There will be push back from some to the Governor’s executive order. As my colleague highlights “the most common argument against mandatory mask wearing is that it’s an infringement on personal liberty and a government overreach. Specifically, one lawsuit claims a mask requirement violates the equal protection standard of the Constitution by disproportionately affecting those who can’t afford a mask. Another claims it’s an invasion of physical autonomy. But a judge replied that the orders are legal and said people “do not have a constitutional right to endanger others just like they do not have a right in a crowded theatre to yell fire.” The ACLU likened the requirements to the familiar “no shirt, no shoes, no service” rule.”

The mask requirement needs to come with some complementary policies if it will be effective. For example:

  • Public education to instruct people on how to properly use masks.
  • Awareness campaigns to shift mindsets about masks away from pure self protection, towards aspirational goals of responsibly protecting one’s community
  • Plans to make masks widely available, especially at public buildings and on public transportation. 

“People need to know that wearing masks can reduce transmission of the virus by as much as 50 percent, and those who refuse are putting their lives, their families, their friends, and their communities at risk,” said Dr. Christopher Murray, the director of IHME.

Ultimately what we have been doing is not enough. The virus is surging. Our goal cannot be to simply stay below the line in which our hospitals are overrun with COVID patients. Our goal must be to contain and reduce infections and minimize the number of deaths from COVID-19. Mask wearing is essential. 

It should be required. 


Danny Katz

Executive Director, CoPIRG

Danny has been the director of CoPIRG for over a decade. Danny co-authored a groundbreaking report on the state’s transit, walking and biking needs and is a co-author of the annual “State of Recycling” report. He also helped write a 2016 Denver initiative to create a public matching campaign finance program and led the early effort to eliminate predatory payday loans in Colorado. Danny serves on the Colorado Department of Transportation's (CDOT) Efficiency and Accountability Committee, CDOT's Transit and Rail Advisory Committee, RTD's Reimagine Advisory Committee, the Denver Moves Everyone Think Tank, and the I-70 Collaborative Effort. Danny lobbies federal, state and local elected officials on transportation electrification, multimodal transportation, zero waste, consumer protection and public health issues. He appears frequently in local media outlets and is active in a number of coalitions. He resides in Denver with his family, where he enjoys biking and skiing, the neighborhood food scene and raising chickens.