Douglas County commissioners voted to opt out of a one-month extension of the COVID-19 dial during an April 13 meeting.
The three-page resolution, which outlined the commissioners’ stance on the restrictions and the pandemic, was unanimously approved and met with a round of applause from those in attendance.
In his public comments during the meeting, County Commissioner Abe Laydon said he would like for residents to “break the delusion” that there is a need for a continuation of public health orders.
“I want … Douglas County to be the first county in the state to say ‘this pandemic is over,’” Laydon said.
The decision comes as public health experts are concerned about a possible fourth wave of the virus. As of April 19, Douglas County had the second highest one-week incidence rate, or cases per 100,000 people, in the state — behind Archuleta County, — according to the state’s data.
The statewide dial, which sets capacity and social distancing restrictions for businesses and other entities based on their county’s COVID-19 data, expired on April 16. In an April 8 meeting, Tri-County Health Department — which covers Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties — voted to extend a modified version of the state’s dial for one month.
With the county opting out of this extension, there are no longer any restrictions on capacities or social distancing in Douglas County other than a statewide mask mandate and a statewide order that applies to large, indoor gatherings.
The commissioners’ resolution did not have any impact on restrictions within the county’s school district.
“Douglas County citizens have been subject to more than 300 additional executive and public health orders to protect the vulnerable ... with the interpretation leading to confusion, fatigue, and costly operational changes,” according to the resolution.
The Tri-County board of health approved the dial extension at the suggestion of executive director Dr. John Douglas, who voiced concerns about rising case numbers and an increase in variant strains of COVID-19 in the state.
“While we’ve made great progress over the past three months … given the uncertainty of the variants, we’re not quite out of the woods,” Douglas said in a state press conference April 13.
More than a dozen Douglas County residents spoke in support of the resolution, many of whom thanked the commissioners for the action.
“I’ve been fighting for a year to give my daughter a normal childhood,” said Katrina Jennings, a Castle Rock resident. “The fact that there might be a light at the end of this tunnel, at least for this county, means a lot to me.”
Jeff Toborg, the mayor for the Town of Parker, spoke in support of the resolution.
“I want to thank you all for understanding that the proper role of government is to do exactly what you’re doing, and that’s to protect the individual rights,” he said.
Dr. Linda Fielding, a representative for Douglas County on Tri-County’s board of health, also spoke in support of the resolution. Fielding voted against the Tri-County order April 8.
Highlands Ranch resident Bob Marshall was one of three speakers who voiced opposition to the resolution. He asked the commissioners to consider keeping minimally invasive requirements such as masks and capacity restrictions.
“We certainly can’t live in a lockdown environment indefinitely ... but to throw all the precautions to the wind … and not run through the finish line when we’re so close to the end, that’s just foolish,” he said.
The opt-out decision includes both unincorporated areas and municipalities within the county.
Tri-County announced that under their approved plan, each of their three counties would move one level lower on the dial, loosening their restrictions for one month. Arapahoe County, which has high enough metrics under the state’s order to move a level higher, will instead stay at level blue, according to Tri-County.
For the next three months, Tri-County will then engage in an observational period. As long as there isn’t a surge in hospital admission rates, the counties will be released from all restrictions.
Any of the three counties are able to opt out of the order under the agency’s policy, which was added in November of 2020 as part of a negotiation with Douglas County. The county agreed to remain with the health department through 2022 as a result.
Adams and Arapahoe commissioners both voiced support for the one-month continuation of the dial, according to Tri-County. On April 9, Douglas County announced that commissioners had directed their staff to draft a resolution to opt out of the order.
As of April 13, Douglas County’s 14-day rate of cases per 100,000 people was 436, Adams’ rate was 337 and Arapahoe’s rate was 321. Douglas County had the highest vaccination rate of the three counties with 46% of residents over the age of 16 with at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Between April 2 and April 12, there were six middle and high schools in Douglas County where in-person learning was shut down for two weeks due to COVID-19 outbreaks. These closures are due to requirements from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
“This is a step towards liberty, this is a step towards freedom,” Commissioner George Teal said in the meeting.
The county plans to continue monitoring local COVID-19 data and collaborate with the state and Tri-County on “prudent, science-driven responses that continue to balance the needs to preserve both lives and livelihoods,” according to the resolution. The commissioners also encouraged the community to adhere to public health recommendations such as getting vaccinated if they choose to do so and staying home when ill.
“If we had been able to do this earlier, I suspect that we would have done that,” Commissioner Lora Thomas said. “We have been wanting to do this for a long time.”
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