Douglas County commissioners say they didn’t agree to move to tighter COVID-19 rules

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In a letter to the state health department sent Thursday evening, Douglas County commissioners said the director of the department had inaccurately described their recent move to level red.

The letter references a comment made by Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, in a Nov. 18 statewide call attended by the CDPHE, counties, municipalities, legislators and special districts.

“A comment was made by yourself that the counties being moved to level red on Nov. 20, 2020 were doing so willingly,” according to the letter, signed by Roger Partridge, chairman of the Douglas County board of commissioners. “We … respectfully disagree with the statements you made regarding the willingness and agreements of counties to move down the dial.”

The state moved multiple counties to level red on its revised dial framework, which outlines what level of restrictions each county is under and is based on the number of COVID-19 cases and incidence rates. The red level bans indoor dining at restaurants and limits gyms to 10% capacity, among other restrictions. It is just one notch below the newly added level purple, which is a stay-at-home order much like the one enacted in the spring.

The commissioners' letter goes on to say that from the county’s perspective, the state gave them no choice when telling them they would be moved to level red, which prohibits personal gatherings and indoor restaurant dining. During a Nov. 17 call, the state indicated that the county couldn't opt out of the move on the state's dial framework, according to the letter.

“We find it difficult to message compliance with the CDPHE’s requirements and restrictions on our citizens when the CDPHE is making comments which we believe do not accurately reflect the true dynamics of the situation,” according to the letter. 

Commissioners Lora Thomas and Partridge spoke about sending the letter during a Nov. 19 work session.

“I’m glad we’re pushing back,” Partridge said. “What we’re hearing from the governor is not the same thing that’s being put out.”

The commissioners ended the letter by requesting that Ryan and CDPHE clarify “as to the nature of how CDPHE makes decisions on county movement along the dial,” and to clarify that the county is not able to opt-out of the order.

In response to questions regarding the allegations made in the letter, a spokesperson from the state said they are working to be as collaborative as possible. The statement didn't directly respond to the request made by commissioners.

"These are tough decisions, and nobody wants any county to have to endure strict restrictions, but the restrictions are what’s necessary now to keep communities as safe as possible," according to the statement. "We rely on our continued partnership with locals and need all hands on deck so we will continue our outreach with Douglas County. "

In a statement emailed through a spokesperson, Partridge said Ryan reached out to apologize after the letter was released. 

“I received a call from CDPHE Exec Director Jill Hunsacker Ryan, apologizing for the miscommunication that Douglas County Commissioners were in agreement with CDPHE’s action in moving the county from orange to red," according to the statement. “We certainly understand that there is a lot going on at the state health department and I appreciated Jill taking the time to call me and take responsibility for the inaccurate statement.”

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