The Tri-County Health Department is preparing to transition COVID-19 services in Douglas County sooner than expected after the public health agency and county government agreed last month to continue a partnership through the end of next year.
Douglas County broke off from Tri-County in September after decades of partnership, having sparred repeatedly with the agency over COVID-19 public health orders that its commissioners deemed to be overreaching. But the two bodies did sign an intergovernmental agreement under which Tri-County will continue to provide health services through the end of 2022
But the management of pandemic-related health services may be changing hands far sooner.
Written minutes from a Tri-County staff meeting Tuesday that were reviewed by The Denver Post show that while the agency is continuing to negotiate with Douglas County, the “cessation of COVID-related services (investigation, testing) to DougCo could occur as early as November 1, 2021.”
Douglas County Commissioner George Teal confirmed in a text message to The Post that the county is working to take over services related to COVID-19, but questioned how soon that will happen.
“Tri-County has maintained in discussions with Douglas County that we were mutually working towards a transition of the responsibility of COVID disease control here in the county to begin on November 8th,” Teal wrote. “Any other date used by Tri-County Health Department would be an instance of their lack of professionalism and dishonesty in dealing with the people of Douglas County.”
Becky O’Guin, a spokesperson for Tri-County, said the agency is “committed to the (intergovernmental agreement) we signed with Douglas County.”
“We’re committed to making sure there’s no gap in core public health services, including COVID vaccine and testing in Douglas County,” she added.
A spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said in a statement that the state agency will be “working with both Tri-County Health Department and Douglas County to determine how COVID-19 response activities currently covered by Tri-County Health Department will transition to Douglas County.”
The final straw for Douglas County came in late August after an order by Tri-County required all students, staff and visitors in Douglas, Adams and Arapahoe counties to wear masks in school. The Tri-County Board of Health, in the same meeting, rescinded a policy that allowed the individual counties to opt out of its public health orders.
The new Douglas County department’s first public health order gave parents the ability to opt their children out of mandated mask-wearing in schools. A federal judge on Tuesday, however, temporarily halted that mask exemption, ruling that it violated the rights of students with disabilities.
Douglas County’s exit from the public health partnership set off a domino effect for the rest of the agency. Adams County last week announced it intends to leave Tri-County as well, leaving Arapahoe County as the sole remaining member.
A report released this month showed forming separate public health agencies would cost Adams and Arapahoe counties millions more dollars per year than their current arrangement under Tri-County.
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