Douglas County to Gov. Polis: Cast off Colorado’s COVID-19 restrictions and open back up

Douglas County’s elected leaders passed a resolution Tuesday afternoon calling on Gov. Jared Polis to “immediately, fully and safely reopen” Colorado by lifting COVID-19 restrictions, saying it would return to citizens their “constitutionally guaranteed freedoms they have been deprived of by their state government.”

But leaders in this county, which has bristled at mask orders and restrictions from the start, stopped short of saying the county is fully open for business. Rather, the resolution specifies, residents and businesses may still face “potentially severe repercussions” from the state or the Tri-County Health Department for defying health directives — just not from Douglas County itself.

The measure, which was approved by all three commissioners after hearing an hour of public comment, comes as an increasing number of states — including neighboring Wyoming — have ended or are planning to end mask mandates and other coronavirus restrictions.

Also Tuesday, Custer County, just west of Pueblo, announced its board of health has decided to allow its citizens and businesses to “return to normal,” letting them make “independent decisions on how to operate.” The county cited 164 positive COVID-19 test results, one death and no hospitalizations over the last two weeks for its decision to ease limitations.

The moves from Custer and Douglas counties came on the same day the state said the Colorado Rockies can have about 21,000 people at the stadium for the season that starts in April, and also comes a day after Denver learned some restaurants can stay open until 2 a.m.

It all adds another twist to the battles between largely conservative Colorado counties and state leaders and health professionals over how to best contain a pandemic that has claimed the lives of 6,000 Coloradans and infected nearly 440,000 people in just a year.

Polis’ office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, though he continued to encourage mask-wearing during a Tuesday afternoon news conference.

The Douglas County resolution said that “what started as a stated need to severely restrict businesses and personal liberties for a short period of time to ‘flatten the curve’ and provide the hospital system time to ramp up, grew into a series of more than 350 Executive Orders” that “continue to control numerous aspects” of people’s lives.

The three commissioners cited steadily declining COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations and increasing vaccinations as reasons to change course.

They highlighted the economic and social damage lockdowns and restrictions have wrought in Douglas County: An estimated $373 million loss of gross domestic product between the final quarter of 2019 and the third quarter of 2020 and a per capita income decline of more than $3,600.

The resolution also blamed the government-ordered restrictions for increased mental health problems and a rise in drug overdose deaths.

“The Board (of county commissioners) believes that Douglas County citizens are capable of exercising personal responsibility and making meaningful and safe decisions with respect to their personal health circumstances, jobs, businesses and personal lives and will do so far better than government,” the resolution said.

Only a few weeks into the pandemic, Republican state lawmakers from the county urged commissioners to cut ties with Tri-County Health after the agency issued a stay-at-home order. In January, Douglas County told Castle Rock officials that it was moving ahead with plans to break off from Tri-County to form its own health department, though that would be a few years in the making.

In Castle Rock, C&C Coffee and Kitchen opened its doors in May to a mostly maskless crowd of customers in defiance of Colorado’s public health orders, leading to a suspension of its business license. Six months later, Tri-County Health temporarily closed down five Douglas County restaurants that were open in violation of public health orders barring in-person dining.

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