DENVER – The Tri-County Health Department is preparing to hand over COVID-19 response services to the new Douglas County Health Department early next month despite an agreement to provide those and other public health services for the county through next year.
Minutes from a Tuesday TCHD meeting, which were obtained by Denver7, say that “cessation of Covid related services (investigation, testing) to DougCo could occur as early as November 1, 2021” and that Tri-County “continues to negotiate with Douglas County.”
Becky O’Guin, a spokesperson for the TCHD, said in an email Wednesday the department was “continuing to work on the details of providing services to Douglas County within the framework of our [intergovernmental agreement].”
“The decision to remove one of our best tools—quarantine of exposed persons—for responding to COVID-19 through the recent Douglas County Board of Health Order makes it difficult for us to continue to provide COVID-19 services,” O’Guin said. “However, we are continuing to work with Douglas County and CDPHE to figure out how to best address these concerns in the public interest.”
The meeting minutes and possible early transition were first reported Wednesday by The Denver Post.
The Tri-County Health Department and Douglas County commissioners signed the intergovernmental agreement at the end of September, after Douglas County withdrew from the TCHD and decided to form its own health department. But the county acknowledged it still needed Tri-County to provide health department services while it set up its own new department.
Per that agreement, Tr-County was to continue providing a slew of health services through December 2022 while Douglas County removed its appointees from the Tri-County board.
Douglas County Commissioner George Teal confirmed Wednesday that discussions were underway about transferring COVID-19 response services to Douglas County by Nov. 8, but said the county was asking for more time in light of the judge's ruling earlier this week. A spokesperson for Douglas County said the county was “committed to working together in the delivery of these services in the public interest.”
"Obviously, that's very disappointing," Teal said in an interview. "...I think it's an honest question to put to Tri-County of would we like to push that transition out another two weeks, give them an opportunity to tie up loose ends here ... and give the CDPHE an opportunity to work with Tri-County and the Douglas County Health Department in order to transition properly."
On Tuesday, a federal judge in Denver issued a temporary restraining order barring the Douglas County Health Department and its board from enforcing its Oct. 8 public health order, which removed quarantine requirements for asymptomatic people and allowed parents to opt their kids out of the school district’s mask requirements without a doctor’s note.
The order cannot be enforced until at least Nov. 8, when the temporary restraining order is set to expire. But the judge could extend it while the district and board of health prepare for a preliminary injunction hearing. If the injunction were granted on a preliminary or permanent basis, the board of health would not be able to enforce the order for the designated time period.
Teal said he wanted Douglas County residents to know the county was prepared to take on the COVID-19 response.
"I want the residents of Douglas County to know that their Douglas County Health Department is active, is going to be prepared to take on COVID services here in Douglas County. We have a plan; we have the personnel identified," he said.
A spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said the department was working with Tri-County and Douglas County to figure out which COVID response programs will be moved over to Douglas County responsibility.
“CDPHE will be supporting COVID-19 response work in Douglas County as CDPHE capacity allows, especially in populations who are at greatest risk of adverse outcomes. We are collaborating with Tri-County and Douglas County and will help protect the county’s most vulnerable population by ensuring that response efforts continue at long-term care facilities and other residential care facilities that are experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks,” the spokesperson said.
“In addition, 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,” the CDPHE spokesperson added.
Adams County commissioners voted Tuesday to leave the Tri-County Health Department as well, and Arapahoe County is considering doing the same over financial concerns.
“We’ve got some work to do to try to help people figure out how to navigate through this,” TCHD Executive Director John M. Douglas said in an interview Tuesday. “…Since Douglas County’s pulled out, things have gotten a lot worse. The state’s just deeply concerned now. And [Gov. Polis] is even hinting maybe there will be a statewide mask mandate, which, frankly, would have been a good idea some time ago.”