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State and County discuss COVID

Posted on 11/10/2020
State and County discuss COVID

During a 30-minute conference call this afternoon among the Weld County Board of Commissioners, Governor Jared Polis and Colorado Public Health and Environment Director Jill Ryan, the state complemented Weld County in its COVID-19 response and encouraged continued messaging promoting individual responsibility, while discussing differences in approach.

Commissioner Chair Mike Freeman kicked off the call acknowledging the rise in cases across the state and reaffirming the work the county has continued to do since the start of the pandemic in March,

“I think we are continuing to do everything Weld County can do to help slow the spread,” said Freeman. “Our health department is working very hard with contact tracing; we continue to put messages out. And that’s what we are doing in Weld County.”

Although Polis’ response to Freeman’s remarks challenged whether or not that approach was working, Polis acknowledged that the problem was “a social and psychological challenge” as people know how to prevent the spread of the virus and they’ve been doing it successful for months in Colorado including in Weld County. Polis asked the Board if there were other ideas about messaging or changing people’s behavior.

Weld County Commissioner Kevin Ross explained the county believes they are “working within the confines that we legally are constrained to,” and listed the multiple outreach efforts, information-sharing and new software implemented by the health department to assist with contact tracing.

When Polis asked the board how many county employees were teleworking, the difference between leadership approaches became apparent. Polis, who stated approximately 65% of the state’s employees were telecommuting, seemed surprised that most of Weld County’s employees continue to provide in-person services.

“We actually expect people to work and provide the services that are necessary for all the other people that are within our county,” said Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer. “We believe we have been setting a good model. We have Human Services, Health Department Services, Public Works, as you stated, we’ve got the Correctional Facilities with our jail; basically, every single one of our employees we consider critical mission employees, and we expect them to provide services and that we should demonstrate to our constituents that county government is open for business and we are doing it in a safe and responsible manner.”

“That’s great you’re being the role model,” Polis responded, going on to agree not all positions can telework.

Shifting topics, director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Jill Ryan said, “I compliment Weld County.” She went on to explain how her department looks at transmission rates across the state and “For months and months and months, Weld County held pretty steady, and you were much lower than other counties. And I know one of the reasons was you have a really sophisticated public health department that we work with often.”

She continued to explain the reason the state was sounding the alarm with regard to the rise of COVID-19 cases was because of the increased workload for contact tracers. In her request that people not interact with other households during November, as that is where the state is seeing transmission, Ryan echoed Polis’ comments saying, “It’s about winning hearts and minds. It’s about psychology…these measures only go so far. We would just love leadership amplifying we all need to pull together this month and reduce our interactions, basically. It’s a personal behavior thing, really. We all have choices. We don’t have the COVID police running around giving people tickets for this or anything. We’re really sort of all on our honor system.”

Polis also brought up the issue of concern regarding hospital capacity.

Commissioner Kevin Ross asked the Governor to help provide insight into the state’s decision to demobilize the alternate care facility at the Ranch in Loveland if hospital capacity was a concern.

“We aren’t hearing from our hospitals that they are even anywhere near capacity or that they’re being overwhelmed,” said Kirkmeyer. The Board elaborated that the county heath department reports on hospital capacity daily and engages with regional hospitals weekly to stay up to date on their needs.

Polis explained that as a group the hospitals have sounded the alarm bells with the state but said it was “welcome news” about the county not hearing concerns from the hospitals that serve Weld residents.

Continuing on the topic of hospital data, Commissioner Scott James asked Polis if the state had considered changing the state dial-metric to focus more on hospital resources and assets as that is what is driving the concern with COVID-19. Polis and Ryan both acknowledged that question had come up before from other counties and that the age range of people getting the virus does impact that resource.

James concluded his remarks by thanking the Governor for entrusting the people of Weld County to make the decisions that are right for themselves.

“Ultimately, this is a matter of individual responsibility,” said Polis. “It’s on us as public officials to do two things and one is test and surge, you’ve been a great partner in that, and the other is the hospital surge…but the biggest part is just on people. It’s about individual responsibility as you indicated.”

Polis continued by saying, “And I think as elected officials all of us just need to echo that theme of individual responsibility. I mean, you all are trusted public officials making the right choices and informing people that they need to make the right choices for them and their families.”