Like numerous other counties across Colorado, Arapahoe County may apply to tweak the state's pandemic-fueled restrictions on businesses, a county public health official announced during a June 4 virtual town hall event.
The event, which allowed community members to ask questions of Arapahoe's public health officials and school district superintendents, focused mostly on how schools may reopen in the fall — and on the challenges families after the state closed schools to stem the spread of COVID-19.
But the conversation veered into other territory, too, when a caller asked about variances — or waivers — that counties can seek to exempt themselves from the state's orders and instead follow their own guidelines on certain areas of public life.
Arapahoe County may apply to change the rules for houses of worship, indoor malls, gyms, restaurants and movie theaters, said Luc Hatlestad, a county spokesman.
At press time it was not clear what the county's proposed rules would look like — it's up to the county commissioners, and the variance applications could be finalized the week of June 8, Hatlestad said. County commissioners make up the governing body of a county, somewhat similar to city councils.
Colorado on June 4 loosened restrictions on places of worship, organized recreational sports, pools and playgrounds. Under the changes, gyms also can reopen to more patrons.
In light of those updates, Arapahoe County's potential requests may change, Hatlestad said.
Counties' applications are evaluated by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which sets the state's restrictions in public health orders, such as the previous stay-at-home or current safer-at-home orders.
In the virtual town hall, a caller asked Scott Siegfried, superintendent of the Cherry Creek School District, about what working single mothers should do without after-school programs that can watch their kids.
If the state ends up mandating social distancing and schools are forced to only have some students attend on a given day, day care is a “very difficult issue I don't know if we can support,” Siegfried said.
The district's ability to provide day care or after-school care is unclear in that scenario, and “we need opportunities to plan,” Siegfried added.
Another caller asked about Colorado considering whether staff and students should wear masks.
Tri-County Health Department, the public health agency for Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties, has not mandated wearing face coverings in any of its three counties — although the evidence Tri-County has seen suggests masks are helpful in reducing COVID-19's spread, said John Douglas, Tri-County's executive director. Tri-County likely wouldn't mandate masks in schools on its own, Douglas added.
Tri-County has no plans to issue requirements different from the state or, “short of an unexpected development in one of our communities, issuing mandates or requirements for schools,” Douglas said.
Brian Ewert, superintendent for Littleton Public Schools, expressed “great concern” about requiring young students to wear masks because of how young kids communicate.
“It will be very, very challenging to teach reading, writing and mathematics to first- and second-grade kids if they are masked,” Ewert said.
Asked if teachers and other staff will be tested for COVID-19 regularly, Douglas said that's a direction Tri-County would like to see for many workers, but such plans have not yet been developed.
Asked by a grandmother taking care of her school-age granddaughter about navigating online learning without being tech-savvy, Siegfried said the district will limit the number of online platforms used for learning — in the past couple months, there were many — and the district will provide videos this summer to train parents and guardians, teachers, and students so they're better prepared to use the technology.
Colorado in recent years adopted new graduation requirements for the class of 2021, and a caller asked if requirements will be changed in light of the pandemic.
Those requirements, along with many others, are something we'll have to look at,” said Katy Anthes, head of the Colorado Department of Education.
The county's telephone town hall included as speakers Douglas; Siegfried; Ewert; Anthes; Tera Helmon, assistant superintendent of learning services for Littleton Public Schools; and Mellissa Sager, policy and intergovernmental affairs manager for Tri-County, who initially mentioned Arapahoe County pursuing variances.
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