On Wednesday, Mayor Michael B. Hancock headed to Mississippi to join his wife and daughter there, he said.
Earlier that day, the mayor told Denver ABC affiliate KMGH that during the holiday, "if you can, remain in your household. If you can, stay with those in your household." If you choose to travel, he said to "do what we've always been asking throughout the entire experience: Wear a mask, social distance and wash your hands."
He also advised residents to avoid travel "if you can" and to host virtual gatherings this Thanksgiving in a social media post on Wednesday.
Hancock did not mention his own plans to travel. In his mea culpa, the mayor said he should have.
"I fully acknowledge that I have urged everyone to stay home and avoid unnecessary travel," he said in a statement. "I have shared how my family cancelled our plans for our traditional multi-household Thanksgiving celebration. What I did not share, but should have, is that my wife and my daughter have been in Mississippi, where my daughter recently took a job. As the holiday approached, I decided it would be safer for me to travel to see them than to have two family members travel back to Denver."
The news of Hancock's travels was met with calls of hypocrisy on Twitter. The mayor said he recognized that many people were "disappointed" by his decision.
"As a public official, whose conduct is rightly scrutinized for the message it sends to others, I apologize to the residents of Denver who see my decision as conflicting with the guidance to stay at home for all but essential travel," he said. "I made my decision as a husband and father, and for those who are angry and disappointed, I humbly ask you to forgive decisions that are borne of my heart and not my head."
Denver County has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases, with the seven-day moving average of new cases reaching a peak of 728 on Nov. 21, county data shows. The county is in the state's "level red" risk category, indicating a 14-day average positivity rate of between 10% and 15%.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised people to spend the holiday at home as the number of COVID-19 cases spike.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has also urged residents to avoid interactions with people outside of their households this Thanksgiving amid "troubling COVID trends" in the state. About one in 41 Coloradans were contagious with COVID-19, compared with one in 49 in the prior week, he said during a press briefing Tuesday.
"It is the highest percentage of contagious Coloradans that we've ever had," the governor said. "So not a time to be fearful, but a time to be very cautious."
Polis said he planned to celebrate Thanksgiving with just his four-person family.
Under the state's most recent health order, individuals are encouraged to limit travel to "necessary travel," such as for critical government and business purposes.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo similarly faced backlash after saying on a radio program earlier this week that his mother and two daughters would travel to Albany for the holiday. He soon reversed course. "It's hard, but sometimes hard is smart," he said during a press briefing Tuesday.
ABC News' Clayton Sandell contributed to this report.