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Republican State Delegates Of Douglas County Speak Against Tri-County Health Issuing Stay At Home Order, Call It "Heavy-Handed" Action

DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) - Two state senators and four state representatives, all Republicans from Douglas County, sent a letter Wednesday to Douglas County Commissioners calling for the county to separate from the Tri-County Health Department following its recent public health order requiring residents to "stay at home." The Tri-County Health Department serves Adams, Arapahoe, and Douglas Counties.

"We urge you to terminate whatever contract exists between Douglas County and that organization," the letter reads. "We consider it unacceptable that a contracted health agency could somehow ignore the will of a majority of our elected and accountable Douglas County Commissioners."

Sen. Chris Holbert told CBS4 Investigator Kati Weis over the phone Wednesday that it's not about what the order says, but rather how it was issued by the unelected head of the health department, against the will of two Douglas County Commissioners.

"We started to learn that two commissioners opposed, so if two of three said no, then the order was made against our direction," Sen. Holbert explained over the phone. "Maybe now it's time for our commissioners to look at not being with Tri-County Health."

The Tri-County Health Department joined with Boulder, Denver, and Jefferson County to call for residents to stay at home amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Wednesday morning, Tri-County health officials said it was crucial for there to be consistency among the Denver metro for folks to stay at home as much as possible, because the area is just a couple of weeks away from seeing the virus completely overwhelm local hospitals.

"We are now at a point where we need to step up efforts once again," said Dr. Bernadette Albanese with the Tri-County Health Department. "This is just the tip of the iceberg."

Albanese cited the rapid spread of the virus as a serious concern, and said every time a positive result comes back, that is a reflection of transmission from 10 to 14 days ago, meaning health officials are consistently behind the virus's spread. That's something health officials said they must take into account in their decision-making process.

Dr. John Douglas, the director of Tri-County Health, told CBS4 he has been in contact with Douglas County Commissioners every day, and had communicated with commissioners before issuing the order. While he knew a couple commissioners were against the order, he felt they came to a mutual understanding the order was important for public health.

"We certainly didn't take these orders lightly, this is the most difficult decision I've ever made in my 35-year career," Dr. Douglas said. "Things are going to potentially look like northern Italy and we just don't want to have that happen here."
Dr. Douglas said he hopes to see a state-wide stay at home order soon.
"We are doing really severe things, because we think in our best public health judgement, we think action is needed now, we think consistent action, and state action would be the best," Dr. Douglas said.

But some delegates wished the health department would have left such decisions to elected officials to make.

Rep. Mark Baisley also signed the letter. He sent the following statement to CBS4:

"This is a moment for citizens to come together enthusiastically toward defeating this outside threat. It makes sense to a civil society that we need to maintain distance in order to slow this new virus that will eventually make its way into our general immune systems. That is why people already participate by staying at home as much as possible. Try-County Health's threatening order of fines and jail time merely places the government in an adversarial position with the people. It is an action taken by the worldview that the state should control individual behavior. Let's remember who we are as Americans and defeat this virus as Americans -- not as ignorant subjects in need of an overlord."

A senator from Arapahoe County also agreed with his Douglas County colleagues, saying, "In that I support our county-level officials both elected and unelected working together to chart the right course for our communities, public health agencies should only be able to make these orders for a duration long enough to allow our elected officials to convene and make longer-term decisions. Because of this, I feel that the length of Tri-County Health Department's order extends beyond their responsibility. In addition, I feel that the penalties called for in the order were too severe, especially considering that the goal is simply to slow the spread of COVID-19."

CBS4 reached out to Douglas County Commissioners and is still waiting for a response.

To read the full letter, click here.

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