DENVER – The Douglas County Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to pass a resolution to petition Colorado’s governor to immediately adopt a plan that will let the county lift all coronavirus restrictions.
The three commissioners acknowledged the resolution and petition had little bearing on what Gov. Jared Polis and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) decide to do with restrictions across the state – much less on a county-by-county basis – in the coming weeks. Several officials said there is a meeting between the state and local public health officials scheduled for later this week.
The resolution itself says “the Board does not wish to mislead any person or business that Douglas County has the authority to allow reopening without potentially severe repercussions to any such business from other entities such as the State or Tri-County Health Department, but can only assure such individuals and businesses that no retribution should come from the County.”
Board chair Lora Thomas added just before the three-member panel voted that the county did not have the legal ability to “open” whenever it wishes.
“Executive orders absolutely prevent us from telling all of you that you can do whatever you want because of the repercussions built into all the special orders,” she said, adding that the board’s attorney likely “wants to strangle” county commissioners “because we’re always asking him to find a way to get this done.”
All of the people save for two who spoke during the public comment session on the resolution prior to the commissioners’ vote spoke in favor of it for various reasons – ranging from concerns about people’s mental health and suicides, to concerns about businesses and the economy moving forward, to ideas of Democratic conspiracy theories between the state and Biden administration to suppress people, to generally disdain for the government – especially the one led by Polis.
A Littleton man claimed that states would not “reopen” until after the 2022 election. A Monument business owner said the governor’s executive orders amounted to “nothing more than a contract that we can either accept or decline.” A woman from Littleton said masking children was teaching them things that “are going to be very difficult to undo.”
“Things did not end up the way [the federal and state government] said it would. We have had time to evaluate, and it’s now the time for you leaders to turn the tide,” said Jesse CdeBaca, of Parker.
David Casiano, Parker’s former mayor, quoted James Madison in arguing that governments should not get to decide “who is essential and who is not” and said that it’s the right of people to alter or abolish a government and create a new one if the current government becomes “destructive.”
And a woman from Colorado Springs who works with a nonprofit serving Medicaid recipients and veterans said she believed the county needed to lift all of its restrictions in order to help the mental health of the people her organization serves.
Most of the people who joined a rally outside of the meeting were also in support of the resolution.
“Trusting citizens is a nice concept. It was a concept that our country was based on and we need to return to that,” said Heather Beach. “A virus is going to spread no matter what. Viruses do that. That’s how they live. … So, the number of cases, I think, is irrelevant.”
“At a certain point, we also have to stand for our values. And right now, the values and principles that everyone here that I know of, and our county commissioners stand for, is those values of personal freedoms,” said Gary Godfrey of Castle Rock.
But there was some opposition from two people who spoke during the public comment session as well.
Patty McGuinnis, of Highlands Ranch, said the stories of people’s suicides during the pandemic were heartbreaking and said there was “no doubt” it exasperated mental health issues. But she chided the commissioners for politicizing both the pandemic and the latest resolution, saying the commissioners’ resolution was “divisive” and “irresponsible.”
She claimed that citizens were not given ample notice of the meeting regarding the resolution and that the commissioners had packed the room with people supportive of the measure, asking what other stakeholders had been queried as the resolution was being drafted.
And a woman from Castle Rock retorted to those who had touted the many generations in which their families had lived in Douglas County or Colorado and the “pioneer spirit” of the West by postulating: “Part of me wonders where our toughness has gone.”
She said she too is a small business owner who doesn’t want it or any others to fail.
“If any of the money I make comes at the expense of the health of my neighbors, I’m disinterested in money, don’t care about it. I think most people feel the same,” she said. “Most people understand human lives are worth more than money.”
Just before the vote, Commissioner Abe Laydon again laid out the current COVID-19 trends in the county. There have been 233 deaths there, with the average age of the deceased being 83 years old. The county has vaccinated 82% of its residents over age 70 with at least their first dose, Laydon said.
Thomas, the board chair, said those numbers made her confident about the move.
“We are not doing this recklessly. We’re getting a lot of emails from people saying, ‘Please, do this right away,’ and others saying, ‘Oh no, don’t do this,’” she said in an interview. “We’re not doing this recklessly. We are working hand-in-hand with the governor’s office and the state health department to make sure the whole state does this together in unison.”
Douglas County is currently in Level Yellow on the state’s response dial, with a five-star variance allowing certified business to operate at Level Blue, as are most of the Denver metro-area counties.
Gov. Jared Polis said during a news conference Tuesday that “most things are open.”
“I hope you’re able to do what you want to do. I think what they’re talking about is when you can pack in people a little closer at restaurants or bars. That’s happening. That’s happening automatically with the dial,” Polis said.
“We trust you. It’s a matter of personal responsibility, and we hope that that continues in the coming weeks,” he added. “All of these things will be phasing out in the coming weeks and months. It’s really just a matter of making sure our most vulnerable are protected, and then, working to localize that health response so that counties can choose when and how to implement mask requirements.”
Douglas County and its elected officials have been largely at odds with the state’s coronavirus restrictions since they were first implemented last year. The commissioners last summer started the process of withdrawing from the Tri-County Health Department before changing course later in the year and saying they would stick with the public health department through at least 2022.
The Tri-County Health Department Executive Director John M. Douglas Jr., MD, said in a statement that his department agrees that restrictions should be lifted faster than currently planned for.
“We understand the desire of leaders and residents in Douglas County to open up our communities and economy as rapidly and completely as possible based on the extraordinary opportunities provided by the growing supply of highly effective vaccines,” Douglas said in a statement to Denver7. “Tri-County Health Department concurs with faster re-opening and will be conveying concerns of elected officials and residents in all of our counties when we take part in discussions with CDPHE on best approaches going forward later this week.”
The CDPHE did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment about the resolution’s passage or upcoming meeting this week on Tuesday afternoon.
When Custer County last week said it would lift all of its COVID-19 restrictions without input from the CDPHE, the state health department said the county did not have the authority to do so and must consult with the state.