Larimer County commissioners: Local decisions should direct COVID response

Larimer County commissioners
Larimer County commissioners Tom Donnelly, Steve Johnson and John Kefalas.

The Oct. 29 Coloradoan column, “COVID fatigue hits county commissioners,” written by Kevin Duggan, generated a lot of inquiries from community members, and we wish to address any wrong impressions gleaned from the article.

We offer this response to clarify and more fully describe the entire county commissioners’ discussion that occurred at our recent administrative matters meeting.

The pandemic presents a very complex public health challenge. It obviously involves individual health and disease, but also has implications for the mental health of the community, the education of our children, jobs for our citizens, child care availability, the protection of vulnerable populations, and the survival of small businesses in the community. Good policy must consider all of these factors and more.

Please be assured the Board of County Commissioners takes this pandemic seriously. We follow the indicators that appear on our county website’s public health dashboard daily and we consult with our public health officials and others across the state on a very regular basis.

COVID-19 in Colorado:Larimer and state case, death and hospital data for October

The board supports and encourages on a regular basis the wearing of masks, social distancing, hand washing, cooperation with contact tracing to control outbreaks, and compliance with public health orders as a necessary way to slow the spread of the virus and keep our business open and kids in the classroom.

We have complete confidence in our county health department. We have some of the best public health professionals in the state here in Larimer County. They know our community and have done amazing work over the past seven months. They have worked with business, our hospitals, and community groups for months to develop local protocols for operating safely.

For these and other reasons, we believe our local public health department is best equipped to issue guidance to keep our community safe.

Early on, the state health department acted capably and swiftly to respond to a pandemic we knew much less about than we do now. Decisive action and uniform messaging was needed to prevent medical surge and the overwhelming of our hospitals and health care workers. These efforts were quite successful.

But as the pandemic progressed, we saw that different communities faced different situations. Colorado is a very diverse state with counties of 800 people and counties with half a million people. What is needed in one county may not even be a problem in another. One size does not fit all in a large and diverse state.

We are concerned that a simple tiered system of the same restrictions for the whole state does not adequately address the needs of keeping Larimer County safe and could further harm businesses unnecessarily.

COVID-19 in Larimer County:5 new outbreaks reported as cases rise across Colorado

We are advocating for local control so our health experts can respond to what they are seeing in real time in our community and what is needed and has worked in our county. We are concerned that arbitrary restrictions on businesses that may be needed in Denver are not appropriate nor will do anything to protect the spread of the virus in our community.

Our direction to the county public health department team is and has been to set the policies for our county based on the data, the science, and the facts on the ground. They know what's happening here, what works here, what's needed here and what practices have been developed in our schools and businesses to operate safely.

We are advocating for and supporting effective and targeted public health protocols that protect public health, safety and welfare and help our local businesses and workers.

Two important details that were not included in the Coloradoan article are worth noting.

One concerned the inadequate two-week turnaround time to address the risk factors that could move us from Level 1 to Level 2 Safer at Home status. The other concerned our ideas on how the county could further help restaurants survive the winter by helping to access heat lamps that would allow for continued outdoor dining.

Restaurants::Even as colder weather nears, outdoor dining isn't going away in Fort Collins amid COVID-19

Folks should understand the implications of moving from Level 1 (cautious) – Level 2 (concern), as described on the website: We are also working through our statewide county association to develop severity metrics that could be incorporated into the state COVID-19 Dial Framework and provide a more accurate measure of the most effective public health responses.

We hope this helps to clarify and expand on the discussions we are having.

Larimer County commissioners John Kefalas, District 1; Steve Johnson, District 2; Tom Donnelly, District 3.