Split reactions among county commissioners in Tri-County Health decision

Coronavirus

ARAPAHOE COUNTY, Colo. (KDVR) — On Monday, the Tri-County Health Department announced it will mandate masks for every person age 2 and up in schools and childcare facilities, and counties will not be able to opt out of the COVID-19 measure.

The mandate begins Wednesday, Sept. 1. It impacts Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties.

FOX31’s Nicole Fierro spoke one-on-one with commissioners in each county to discuss reactions and next steps.

“Once the decision is made by the health department, state statute gives them the authority to put that in place and we have no say after that,” Adams County Commissioner Eva Henry said. 

Henry tells FOX31, she and the other Adams County commissioners are thrilled with TCHD’s latest decision. 

“I’m excited that Tri-County has taken the opt-out away and taken out the politics of the health order, that was Adams County’s main goal,” Henry said. 

Douglas County Commissioner Lora Thomas had an opposite reaction from Henry.

“I am very, very disappointed,” Thomas said. 

Douglas County is already pushing to create its own health department. Thomas says part of the talks about leaving was letting DougCo opt out of public health orders it didn’t agree with. 

“We did our share, we negotiated in good faith and I feel like they have just ripped the rug right out under us,” Thomas said. 

Thomas says Douglas County commissioners will be holding a virtual meeting at 12 p.m. Wednesday to discuss its options.

“When Douglas County leaves Tri-County, it won’t be Tri-County, so we will have to look at what’s best for Arapahoe County,” Arapahoe County Commissioner Nancy Jackson said. 

Jackson says Arapahoe and Adams county hired consultants who are currently conducting a study that is looking into options for leaving Tri-County too. Preliminary results should come out in October.

“For me personally, I’ve been wanting to leave Tri-County for a few years, the pandemic made it a little more bolder wanting to have our own health department,” Henry said. 

While Henry tells FOX31, she isn’t wanting to part ways over this mask mandate specifically, the mask order is dividing leaders and parents across the tri-counties. 

When asked for a statement, TCHD shared the following letter with FOX31, written to the commissioners:

You are undoubtedly aware of the policy change made by our Board of Health yesterday to rescind the ability of counties to opt out of county-wide public health orders.  I am writing to clarify a few things about this action.

Our change in course was dictated by changing circumstances.  Even last fall when adopted, the opt out policy always a somewhat gray delegation of statutory Public Health duties and decision-making to local boards of elected officials.  More recently and increasingly clearly over the past 4 months, it has become evident to me that the policy has made it difficult to provide satisfactory Public Health leadership to your residents at a time when the pandemic was worsening and when the Governor and CDPHE had stepped back, thus leaving a vacuum in Public Health efforts.

With growing rates of Delta, strong signals from Douglas County leadership of its plans to create their own health department, and the recent efforts of county leaders to become directly involved in matters related to our promotion of prevention efforts with the Douglas County School District, I feel that the opt-out policy has made it increasingly challenging to respond nimbly to new issues arising from pandemic, and furthermore, was creating confusion/concern in working our other two counties and our school districts.

We regret the divisiveness and politicization of many aspects of the pandemic over past 18 months; the strident disagreement occurring over mask-wearing in school settings over the past 6 weeks has been more challenging than any.  In the face of strong and consistent advice regarding the critical importance of masking from both national (CDC, AAP) and local experts in Public Health and child health (AAP, Childrens Hospital) and growing case rates and school outbreaks, we felt that we had no choice other than to encourage our Board to act expeditiously in rescinding the opt-out policy.  We understand that your Board feels strongly that this is not a course that you support, although the input we have received from many parents and other community leaders clearly indicates that this is not a consensus view. 

We are sorry that our 50+ year history of serving Douglas County residents may be coming to an end and that the separation has been catalyzed at such a divisive moment.   If the County does choose to make a change, rest assured that we will continue to serve the residents to the best of our ability as long as we remain your Public Health Department and will provide whatever support we practically can in your transition.

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