Douglas County residents weigh in on masks, Tri-County Health withdrawal at commissioners meeting

'We are not an island,' one said

Douglas County commissioners addressed the public July 14 regarding the board's recent decisions to opt out of the Tri-County Health Department mask mandate and to begin the process of withdrawing from the district.
The three commissioners, Roger Partridge, Lora Thomas and Abe Laydon, each explained their reasoning and how they came to each decision. About a dozen people submitted public comments, either through a phone call or in-person. The meeting was held virtually and open to the public.
The commissioners made no indication of reversing their July 9 decision to withdraw from the Tri-County Health Department by July 2021.
“It's important to know we are listening to you and we have heard your voices,” Thomas said. “I think what we've heard most of all is you feel like we have abandoned you, like we've left you without a health department, and you're very concerned with what this is going to cost.”
Laydon said the county is working through options regarding cost and continuity of services; no details about the county's proposed independent health department have been finalized.
Laydon said he believes the county has a “wonderful” opportunity to save money while not duplicating services during this transition.
The Tri-County Health Department Board of Directors voted July 8 to require the people it serves in Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties to wear masks in public settings, with a variety of exceptions.
Tri-County Executive Director Dr. John Douglas recommended the district take an opt-in approach to the mandate, leaving it up to cities and counties to decide whether to go along, rather than an opt-out approach.
Douglas said then that it is less imperative for Douglas County to have a mask mandate based on its current voluntary mask-wearing rate and level of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
At the July 14 Douglas County commissioners' meeting, Thomas explained the role of Tri-County Health Board members and how they are appointed. The board is made up of three medical professionals appointed by their respective county commissioners.
Douglas County's representatives are Marsha Jaroch, a nurse practitioner, Paulette Joswick, a registered nurse, and Zachary Nannestad, who holds a Master of Public Health degree.
Thomas said the commissioners wanted the three Douglas County representatives on the Tri-County Health Board to vote down the proposed mask rule. Jaroch and Nannestad voted “no” but Joswick voted “yes” on the July 8 mandate.
Tri-County Health Department staff have surveyed residents complying with mask-wearing recommendations since late April. The data from June 28-July 5 reports about 77% of Douglas County residents voluntarily wore masks in public. There have been six COVID-19 hospitalizations in Douglas County since June 27, according to Tri-County data.
About 60% of Adams County residents and 75% of Arapahoe County residents voluntarily wear masks. Eight Douglas County residents have been hospitalized due to COVID-19 since June 27. Adams County had 35 hospitalizations and Arapahoe County had 32 in the same time frame, according to Tri-County Health data.
“This is consistent with the theme we're seeing in Douglas County,” Laydon said. “Based on our size and demographics, we really have to take the bull by the horns and make sure we're reflecting the will of our citizens based on our size.”
Laydon reiterated he is not against wearing a mask and he urges all citizens to wear one.
“The big difference, from my vantage point, is there's this strong recommendation based on science, which I urge, and a mandate which could fine or criminalize” residents, Laydon said.
Partridge said he wears a mask but agreed with his fellow commissioners that the mandate was overreaching.
“You really have to match those data up together, when we look at the number of tests, then we look at the number of positive tests, then we look at the severity (of those positive tests), then we look at hospitalization rates,” Partridge said.
Partridge added that only one-tenth of 1% of patients with COVID-19 require hospitalization, a statistic backed up by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention July 4.
“We don't' take any stats lightly, but you really have to match stats up instead of relying on one,” Partridge said, referring to the fact positive case rates are rising in Douglas County and throughout the state.
After the commissioners spoke, about 10 or so Douglas County residents provided comment in three-minute intervals. Every person who spoke during this time voiced opposition to both of the commissioners' July 9 decisions on masks and Tri-County Health.
Stafford Black of Highlands Ranch said he worried about Douglas County becoming a hotspot.
“Douglas County is part of the larger Denver region. We are not an island,” Black said. “We should commend ourselves for keeping our numbers so low and for our mask-wearing rates…but if we don't take reasonable precautions, … that could easily turn in the other direction.”
Zach Sloan of Castle Rock said he was concerned the commissioners did not present any alternative to the mask mandate to ensure the public's safety.
“If the data shows that one-tenth of 1% become hospitalized…what are we doing for the people who do need help?” Sloan asked. “We're not being told what will be done. That what would make me feel better. What are we doing to be proactive instead of reactive?”
“I do not support the Douglas County Commissioner's clearly partisan, political decision to sever ties with the Tri-County Health Department” and the decision to opt-out of the mask mandate, said another speaker, Brian Clarke of Highlands Ranch.
“A mask mandate is not about punishing citizens," he said. "It's about setting community standards and making clear what our priorities are as a community.”


Our Papers

Ad blocker detected

We have noticed you are using an ad blocking plugin in your browser.

The revenue we receive from our advertisers helps make this site possible. We request you whitelist our site.