Tri-County Health ends the debate on masks while the virus just won’t go away


As of August 31, 796 Coloradans were hospitalized with COVID-19, virtually all of whom had the Delta variant and were unvaccinated. Statewide, 82 percent of acute care hospital beds were in use. According to the latest data available, in the Tri-County Health Department area, COVID-19 positivity rates ranged from 7% to 8% and the seven-day cumulative incidence rate of new cases ranges from 153 to 191, putting it in status red. Hospitalizations in the area remained low, likely because the number of those over age 12 who are fully vaccinated in the Tri-County area ranges from 65 to 71 percent, but case numbers are still trending up.

While nowhere near the numbers we saw last November and December, the trend in the number of new COVID-19 cases is going in the wrong direction.

On August 30, the State Board of Health approved emergency rules requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for staff, including employees, direct contractors, and support personnel, in all licensed healthcare settings. CDPHE (Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment) announced that, “approximately 30% of the healthcare workforce remains unvaccinated. With the rise in the Delta variant and increased stress on the healthcare system, ensuring that all workers in licensed healthcare facilities are vaccinated is one of the most effective means the state can take to protect the public health, safety, and welfare of the most at-risk Coloradans and in this ongoing pandemic.”

Meanwhile, county commissioners, school boards and parents struggled to agree whether children, particularly those who are not old enough to be eligible to be vaccinated, should wear masks while inside school buildings.

Tri-County Health Department (TCHD) had issued a public health order to its three member counties (Arapahoe, Douglas and Adams) on August 18 requiring students under 12 to wear face coverings while inside school facilities. The following day, utilizing the opt-out provision put into place during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, Douglas County commissioners voted unanimously to opt out of TCHD’s public health order. Douglas County School District Board of Education stuck to its previous directive mandating masks for students under 12 while indoors anyway, but that was not the end of it. On August 24, the county commissioners passed a resolution “requesting the school board to exercise discretion and decline to adopt TCHD’s public health order,” and on August 25, Douglas County’s attorney sent a letter to TCHD asking that the mask order be voided due to issues with how the meeting resulting in its adoption was conducted.

Further north, Adams County Commissioners on August 24 voted 3-2 to also opt of the TCHD public health order, at the same time criticizing the fact that the opt-out option was permitted. Nevertheless, several of the 12 separate school districts that Adams County residents attend, announced that they would follow TCHD’s order requiring masks indoors for children too young to be vaccinated. 

Arapahoe County Commissioners planned a public meeting for August 31 to discuss and hear from the public on the subject of whether they too should opt out of TCHD’s August 18 public health order.

TCHD saw the trend and regrouped. On August 30, the Tri-County Health Department Board of Health voted to rescind their policy of allowing opt-outs to countywide public health orders by Boards of County Commissioners. They also rescinded their August 18 school mask order that two of the three counties under their jurisdiction had already opted out of. Then they put in place a universal mask order for all schools and child care entities in Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties requiring facial coverings to be worn by all individuals aged two years and older in all school and child care settings, regardless of vaccination status, “effective September 1, 2021 until December 31, 2021, unless amended, extended or rescinded.” The most significant difference with the new order is that it also includes students over the age of 12 who are old enough to be vaccinated.