DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) — Douglas County is withdrawing from the Tri-County Health Department — and will opt out of the mandatory mask order the health department is planning issue. Douglas County officials announced the decision Thursday evening.
“My fellow commissioners and I have directed staff to leave and develop a public health dept to meet the needs of our residents,” County Commissioner Lora Thomas tweeted.
Now, Douglas County is working to implement a new public health department within a year.
“Regarding the mask mandate opt-out, our remarkably favorable public health data, paired with the community’s current 75% mask-wearing voluntary compliance observed by TCHD, and based on Dr. Douglas’ recommendation that a mask mandate was not necessary for Douglas County, led us to this conclusion,” Commissioner Abe Laydon stated.
Looking at the data in the Tri-County area, Adams County has more than 4,500 confirmed cases and 156 deaths. Arapahoe County has more than 5,500 confirmed cases and 350 deaths, and Douglas County has just over 1,000 cases and 52 deaths.
Those lower numbers are a big reason why Douglas County Commissioners are trying to part ways with Tri-County Health.
They also questioned the enforceability of the mask mandate.
“I wear a mask, I urge my citizens to wear a mask, my family wears a mask,” said Abe Laydon, Douglas County Commissioner, who supports the science behind face covering. “However, a strong recommendation is very different than swearing at our citizens and implying that they will be fined or criminalized if they don’t follow our orders. We are just not going to do that and that is the critical distinction.”
Laydon and other County Commissioners voted to opt out of Tri-County Health’s mask mandate.
“For the majority of our citizens, COVID has not had a significant health impact. It’s had a huge economic impact. When people are unemployed, don’t have jobs, can’t support their families – we need to be cognizant of that data as well because that also affects public health,” said Laydon.
Before Wednesday’s vote, Tri-County Health’s Executive Director, John Douglas, didn’t recommend including Douglas County in the mask mandate. Ultimately, the decision came down to the votes of board members outside of Douglas County.
“The fact that Adams County representatives made a motion, and we ended up with a mandate, underscores the reason why we don’t belong with Tri-County Health,” said Laydon, “We’re too big of a county to be small and be governed by out of county philosophies that don’t match our demographics.”
When Douglas CO joined Tri-County Health in 1966, it only had about 4,800 residents. Now Douglas CO has around 370,000. The decision to cut ties with Tri-County Health wasn’t all of sudden. Laydon says it follows years of discussion.
“We must respectfully form our own health department for the benefit of our citizens and in light of our unique public health data as the healthiest county in the country,” said Laydon.
Douglas County will have to wait one year before it can withdraw from Tri-County Health.