Tri-County Health Department is no longer providing COVID-19 services in Douglas County as of today, county leaders said.
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That announcement, along with news that the state public-health department will be taking over those duties, were made during a Douglas County commissioner work session this morning.
“I'm disappointed but not surprised that Tri-County is reneging on another deal that they have made with us, that we made in good faith,” said county Commissioner Lora Thomas in the meeting.
A spokesperson for Tri-County did not respond to requests for comment.
It's the latest chapter in the divorce of Douglas County from Tri-County, the agency that has provided its public health services for more than half a century, largely over disagreements about COVID-19 safety policy.
After Douglas County formed its own health department in September, county commissioners made a deal with Tri-County to continue receiving all services, including those related to COVID-19, from the agency.
Then, the Douglas County Health Department approved a public health order that required all entities in the county, including the school district, to allow people to opt out of mask requirements. The order also limited the scope of COVID-related to quarantines in the county.
Emails obtained by Colorado Community Media through a public records request show that before that health order was approved Oct. 8, Tri-County told the new Dougco health board that these measures would make it difficult for Tri-County to continue providing COVID-related services.
“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.
Tri-County and Douglas County soon began discussions of transitioning COVID-19 work to the county, according to the emails. When asked by CCM, neither the county nor the health department provided a specific timeline for when it would occur.
A federal judge later temporarily blocked Douglas County’s opt-out order at the request of the county school district, which had previously mandated masks inside its schools.
Now, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will take over COVID-related services including case investigations and contact tracing until the new health department is able to find a way to provide them on its own.
“I’m certainly glad that they will be filling in those gaps but I’m confident that Douglas County will be able to step up and fill in and begin to handle that independently from the state at some point,” said Commissioner Abe Laydon during today's meeting.
In an earlier interview about the transition, county Commissioner George Teal told CCM that the county is looking at providing these services through the help of a private company.
While Teal said in today's meeting that he found the decision by Tri-County to hand off COVID services to be “very disturbing,” he added that he's "not bothered at all” by the move based on confidential COVID-19 data that the commissioners received during an executive session that morning.
“This is a good time for this to happen,” he said.
In the same meeting, commissioners asked their legal counsel to look more deeply into why some data related to COVID-19 is required to be kept confidential.
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