Coronavirus

How COVID Politics Are Killing the Tri-County Health Department

Tri-County Health Department in Greenwood Village basically has an expiration date.
Tri-County Health Department in Greenwood Village basically has an expiration date. Google Maps
The Tri-County Health Department has done a stellar job of dealing with the COVID-19 crisis on behalf of Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties, with officials consistently making decisions based on safety and science. And because of that, it could die.

On October 19, the Adams County Board of Commissioners announced that it's withdrawing from TCHD as of December 2022, with a new, Adams County-specific health department expected to be up and running in January 2023. Since Douglas County has already withdrawn from the department and Arapahoe County now plans to launch a public-health agency of its own, the Tri-County Health Department appears to be bound for extinction in a little over a year — and the main reason appears to be objections to mask mandates amid the pandemic.

At the August 30 meeting of the Tri-County Health Department Board of Health, members voted against allowing Douglas and Adams counties to simply ignore a new order requiring children to wear masks at schools indoors. (Arapahoe County had planned to consider doing the same during an August 31 meeting.) The edict called for facial coverings to be worn by all individuals two or older "in all school and child care settings" beginning on September 1 and running through December 31, at which time it could be ended or extended.

That was unacceptable to Douglas County commissioners, who'd already announced their intention to split from the Tri-County Health Department. On October 8, the newly formed Douglas County Health Department approved an order allowing parents to opt-out of school face-covering mandates for their kids, despite the policy of the Douglas County School Board to move forward with masking.

In a statement, the Adams County board tried to make its withdrawal from TCHD seem like something that had been forced on members by their Douglas County peers. According to board chair Eva Henry, "Douglas County’s decisions left us no choice but to re-evaluate the future of public health services in Adams County. As a result, Adams County must determine the best option to move ahead for a health board and services provided to residents."


As for the Arapahoe County Board of Commissioners, it issued a statement that the board was "saddened that our neighboring counties have chosen to end the productive 55-year partnership with the Tri-County Health Department," then added, "Arapahoe County residents will continue to receive all existing Tri-County public health services uninterrupted during the transition. We have already begun to explore future options to continue delivering quality public health services and will begin developing the necessary transition plans as we form our own public health department."

That's what the employees of the Tri-County Health Department get for doing their jobs.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts