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Colorado to give out free KN95 masks at libraries, but program’s rollout leads to confusion

Denver Public Library among the locations warning patrons they have no masks to give out


Colorado plans to distribute free KN95 and surgical-grade masks through public libraries, fire stations and other community locations beginning this week, but the program’s rollout already has led to confusion as some agencies — including the Denver Public Library — warned the public they had no masks to offer.

Gov. Jared Polis’s office announced Tuesday afternoon the high-grade masks would be handed out at locations that also include recreation centers, VFWs, YMCAs and “high-traffic community centers” as part of the state’s ongoing effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Mask distribution sites are listed at

The site lists three Boulder County locations, the Boulder County Nederland Community Library, 200 Highway 72 North; Louisville Public Library, 951 Spruce St.; and Lyons Community Library, 451 4th Ave #619.

The Louisville Public Library posted to its Facebook page that the library will be handing out the masks starting Thursday and that supplies would be limited.

The Lyons Community Library received a total of 500 masks Tuesday and is prepared to distribute them.

“Given Boulder County’s long-running mask mandate we’ve provided disposable surgical masks at our entrance for a long time, but we’re thankful for an opportunity to provide the additional protection of a KN95 to our visitors,” said Director Kara Bauman.

The library is also offering at-home testing kits and a pediatric vaccination clinic in addition to mask distribution.

The Nederland library could not be reached Wednesday to confirm if it had the masks in stock.

Broomfield Library, 3 Community Park Road, is also listed on the state’s site, but Broomfield tweeted that masks will not be available at that location until Saturday. Until then, residents can pick up a mask at the Broomfield Community Center, 280 Spader Way, and Paul Derda Recreation Center, 13201 Lowell Blvd, until Friday.

Boulder and Longmont officials said they have requested to be a part of the program, but have not received supplies yet.

“We are on a mission to help Coloradans keep themselves safe, and free medical grade masks are far more effective in preventing infection than cloth masks,” Polis said in a news release. “By making free medical grade masks available at libraries across our state and soon for home delivery, we are giving Coloradans a powerful tool to avoid infection.”

But the public announcement of the program by the governor’s office appears to have caught some off guard.

Several Front Range public library systems — including Denver, Jefferson County and Pueblo — took to social media Tuesday evening to tell their patrons that they do not have KN95 masks to give out. The Denver Public Library has since deleted its social media posts on the subject.

Nick Potter, director of community relations for the Pueblo Library District, said the announcement wasn’t a surprise, but, rather, “a matter of folks seeing the headline and skipping the details.” He said the Pueblo Library received 8,000 masks around 7 a.m. Wednesday and is planning to begin distribution Thursday.

Erika Martinez, communications director for the Denver Public Library, said the facility deleted its social media posts to avoid adding “any additional confusion to our community.” She encouraged people to seek out other locations that are scheduled to distribute the masks. In the metro area, the state’s list includes libraries in Aurora, Littleton and Westminster.

“We don’t believe it’s in the best interest of our community to discuss the behind-the-scenes activities of the rollout,” Martinez wrote in an email.

The Denver library did order KN95 masks from the state for staff use, she said, but it does not have any for public distribution.

“We are working with the state and our team to iron out the operational needs and what it would take for our organization to distribute,” she said.

Fire agencies, including the Greeley Fire Department and Adams County Fire, also posted on social media that, despite the governor’s announcement that fire stations would be among the sites participating, they were not distributing the KN95 masks.

By late morning Wednesday, the state website’s page on the free mask program was edited to remove the reference to the face coverings being available at fire stations, recreation centers, VFWs and YMCAs. “At this time, only the following libraries are offering masks,” the page now says. “More locations to follow.”

Colorado has reported more than 10,000 new cases of COVID-19 in a single day nine times in 2022, after having never reached six figures for new cases in a single day at any point prior during the pandemic. Of specimens tested last week, every case of COVID-19 in Colorado was from the omicron variant.

The new mask initiative comes as the federal government opens its program to mail free COVID-19 tests to people’s homes. State officials also had been distributing higher-quality masks at schools. According to the state, they’re offering masks to “provide high-quality personal protective equipment to Coloradans who might be especially at risk during the pandemic and future public health emergencies.”

The state recommends people upgrade from cloth masks to medical-grade masks like KN95 or surgical masks.

According to state officials, vaccination and mask-wearing are the two most essential tools Coloradans can use to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Anyone age 5 or older can access COVID-19 vaccines.