Douglas County executives officially parted ways with the Tri-County Health Department on Tuesday, after months of conflict between the Conservative county and Colorado’s largest public health agency over COVID-19 health directives and restrictions.
The county commissioners’ vote on the decision was unanimous and expected given their clear intention last week to cut ties with Tri-County after 55 years. The National Board of Health, which serves 1.5 million people across Arapahoe, Adams and Douglas counties, voted last month to end member states’ ability to opt out of their health orders.
“Today it is about local control of public health orders,” said Commissioner Abe Laydon.
Earlier in the day, commissioners named potential members of a future Douglas County health council, a move scheduled for September 14. These five members are also two of the three commissioners – Lora Thomas and George Teal – whom Dr. Linda Fielding, Kim Muramoto and Doug Benevento.
Fielding and Muramoto currently serve as boards of health members for Tri-County, both of which represent Douglas County. Benevento was head of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment from 2002 to 2010 and was deputy administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under President Trump.
Douglas County’s decision Tuesday was preceded by an hour-long public commentary in which some residents wondered if the county was fiscally responsible. The county pays $ 2.5 million annually to Tri-County, and several residents asked if Douglas County would be able to provide the same level of service at a comparable price.
Residents backing the move said they had grown tired of tough-handed health orders from Tri-County, particularly the requirement that children 2 and older wear masks to school. They pointed to the fact that there are no current pediatric hospital admissions in Douglas County for COVID-19 as evidence that Tri-County used a one-size-fits-all approach to pandemic control.
“Our children are the least vulnerable to this disease, and somehow they are most punished,” said Lisa Trietley, a Castle Rock mother.