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Douglas County agrees to stay with Tri-County Health Department through at least 2022

Change comes four months after Douglas Co. moved to leave health department
Posted at 3:33 PM, Nov 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-10 17:38:56-05

DENVER – Four months after Douglas County commissioners moved to leave the Tri-County Health Department over their displeasure with the health department and new public health orders, including a mask mandate, the county has agreed to stay with Tri-County through at least 2022.

The county and Tri-County Board of Health came to an agreement on a policy “that will increase the role of individual counties” regarding the development and issuance of public health orders, which is why the county has stopped its move, according to a letter sent Tuesday to the Tri-County board of health’s attorney by Douglas County Attorney Lance J. Ingalls.

According to a Tri-County Health Department board policy on public health orders obtained by Denver7, which was adopted last Friday, the Tri-County board of health and executive director will now have to consult with county officials on information, data and the need for a public health order in each county and seek feedback before one is issued.

According to the policy, counties will have the option to opt-out of the order within a specific timeframe and will also have the option to opt back in.

The letter from Ingalls says that Douglas County and Tri-County Health came to an agreement that Douglas County would rescind its July 10 notice withdrawing from the health department, which would have gone into effect July 11 of next year.

Douglas County will now stay within the three-county public health district, along with Arapahoe and Adams counties, “through at least December 31, 2022, while we collectively continue to examine our partnership,” the letter from Ingalls stated.

The Board of Douglas County Commissioners on July 9 directed Ingalls to begin the process of withdrawing from Tri-County after voicing their displeasure over what was at the time a novel mask mandate for the three counties, despite Arapahoe and Adams counties accepting it.

Commissioner Lora Thomas at the time said the board of county commissioners questioned “the enforceability and efficacy of the mask mandate order” and said that citizens should “continue doing what they do.”

“The fact that someone from out of county, appointed from Adams County, made a decision for all of you in this room is really inconsistent with our values in this county and I think that underscores why Tri-County is no longer a good fit for our citizens,” Commissioner Abe Laydon said at the time.

Commissioners backed the move away from Tri-County in July, with Thomas saying they believed it was “the right decision for our citizens.”

Douglas County took advantage of the opt-out clause within the Tri-County mask order and did so. But doctors warned against Douglas County’s move to opt out of the health department and work to create its own in the middle of a novel coronavirus pandemic.

The health department and county have since been in discussions about whether to continue moving forward with the move out of Tri-County or work to find a path forward together.

And just a week after Tri-County’s mask mandate was ordered, Gov. Jared Polis put a mask mandate in place statewide – a move that came after weeks of hand-wringing and questions about why he had not mandated mask-wearing statewide. Polis spent numerous news conferences this spring strongly urging Coloradans to wear them, but also said that the state did not have enough enforcement capabilities to issue an order. He has told people to "wear a damn mask" and called those who aren't "selfish bastards."

Now, in November, the messages from Polis and health officials have mostly been the same as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations reach their highest points yet across much of the state.

"It's not about enforcement. ... The Grim Reaper is the ultimate enforcer. More Coloradans will die if Coloradans don't simply cancel their social plans and wear masks in public,” Polis said at a news conference Tuesday.

Douglas County spokesperson Wendy Manitta Holmes told Denver7 Tuesday the county was happy with the outcome. Douglas County is currently in Safer at Home Level 2 Yellow.