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Officials of Douglas County’s new health department and the Tri-County Health Department are discussing how to transition various COVID-19 services from Tri-County's administration to Dougco after a Tri-County official called a county order on mask wearing and quarantines "greatly concerning."
Tri-County has been administering public health programs for 55 years, but Douglas County split from the agency and set up its own department when Tri-County imposed a mandatory mask requirement in schools Aug. 30.
On Oct. 8, hours before the Douglas County Health Department issued an order allowing residents to opt out of mask mandates, a representative from Tri-County told the board’s president that the action would make it difficult for Tri-County to continue providing COVID-19 services, according to emails obtained by Colorado Community Media through a Colorado Open Records Act request.
The Douglas County School District was requiring everyone in school buildings to wear masks as a COVID-safety measure, but the county health order allowed people to opt out of the mask mandate.
Tuesday, a federal judge temporarily blocked the Douglas County opt-out order at the request of the school district, but the judge's action is in effect for only 14 days.
“Removing nearly all mitigation measures to control COVID-19 transmission in schools is greatly concerning and with decades of public health experiences and expertise, TCHD cannot support this action,” Jennifer Ludwig, the deputy director for Tri-County, wrote to the county board of health president, Doug Benevento, according to the records obtained by CCM.
Benevento responded to Ludwig's letter that he was "truly disappointed."
"My hope was that we could find a common ground that we could meet the needs that have been expressed by parents and teachers and I was disappointed we could not," he said.
On Oct. 11, Ludwig told the county that “TCHD wishes to amend the IGA,” a reference to the intergovernmental agreement between Dougco and Tri-County Health.
“We would like to make this effective immediately to clear up the mass confusion in the community,” according to the email.
The pending transition comes about a month after the two entities entered into the IGA, which states that Douglas County would continue to receive all its public health services from Tri-County until at least 2023.
Under the IGA, the new health department would be in control of things like governance and county-wide public health orders.
The new health department was formed Sept. 7 and is now in the process of finding a public health director to lead the agency.
No other public health services, such as restaurant inspections or other disease control, were included in the discussions about changes, according to the records.
The county will now look to a private company to provide COVID services, said Commissioner George Teal, who also serves on the new board of health.
“I actually think this is a positive step for moving forward with a Douglas County Department of Health,” Teal said.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment provides several services related to COVID-19, including testing and access to vaccines,but case investigation and contact tracing is left to local agencies, said a CDPHE spokesperson.
In a statement to Colorado Community Media, CDPHE confirmed that they are playing a role in the transition of services in Douglas County.
“CDPHE will be providing technical assistance to Douglas County as they set up their infrastructure to perform case investigation, contact tracing and outbreak response activities,” according to a spokesperson.
CDPHE will also work to help protect “populations who are at the greatest risk” in Douglas County “as CDPHE capacity allows,” according to the spokesperson.
While the emails and comments from Teal show that the transition could take place in early November, the county and Tri-County have each said there isn’t yet a set timeline.
A spokesperson for the county said the details of the IGA change are pending. A spokesperson for Tri-County said TCHD “is continuing to work on the details of providing services to Douglas County within the framework of our IGA.”
Under their IGA, Tri-County can halt services in the county only when it’s a mutually agreed-upon decision to do so.
When asked if this decision was mutual, Teal said “it is now.”
In an Oct. 13 email, Douglas County Attorney Lance Ingalls conveyed a message from Dr. John Douglas, executive director of Tri-County Health, to Douglas County's Benevento, offering a way to continue COVID-19 services for the time being.
Ingalls said Douglas had asked the new board of health to hold an emergency meeting to “restore the tool of possible quarantines to TCHD for COVID issues in Douglas County while we continue to discuss transfer of duties,” according to the email.
“It would remove TCHD’s need for expediency to divest all COVID related duties to Douglas County immediately,” he said.
In response, Benevento said that because students were preparing for fall break, he didn’t see the need for an emergency meeting. He also said he hoped to continue working with Tri-County to address their concerns.
“In the meantime, I would like for you and any other county staff necessary to move forward with Tri-County and the State Health Department to transition the disease control program as it relates to COVID as expeditiously as possible,” Benevento said.
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