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Douglas County leaders on Tuesday officially parted ways with the Tri-County Health Department, following months of conflict between the conservative county and Colorado’s largest public health agency over COVID-19 health directives and restrictions.
The vote by the county commissioners in favor of the resolution was unanimous and expected, given their clear intention last week to sever ties with Tri-County after 55 years. The health agency, which serves 1.5 million people across Arapahoe, Adams and Douglas counties, voted last month to end the ability of its member counties to opt-out of its health orders.
“Today is about local control over public health orders,” Commissioner Abe Laydon said.
The commissioners earlier in the day named potential members of a future board of health for Douglas County, a move that is scheduled to be formalized on Sept. 14. Those five members are two of the three commissioners — Lora Thomas and George Teal — as well as Dr. Linda Fielding, Kim Muramoto and Doug Benevento.
Fielding and Muramoto currently serve as board of health members for Tri-County, both representing Douglas County. Benevento was the head of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment from 2002 to 2010, and was deputy administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency under President Trump.
Douglas County’s decision Tuesday was preceded by an hour of public comment, with some residents wondering whether the county was being fiscally responsible. The county pays $2.5 million to Tri-County annually and several residents asked whether Douglas County would be able to provide the same level of service for a comparable price.
Residents backing the move said they had grown tired of heavy-handed health orders coming from Tri-County, especially its requirement that kids 2 and older wear masks in school. They pointed to the fact that there are no current pediatric hospitalizations in Douglas County for COVID-19 as evidence that Tri-County was using a one-size-fits-all approach to pandemic control.
“Our kids are the least vulnerable to this disease and somehow they are the most punished,” said Lisa Trietley, a Castle Rock mother.