Tri-County Health says governor gave 5 minute notice, no reasoning of easing restrictions

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AURORA | A Tri-County Health Department official says she received barely any notice of Gov. Jared Polis’ decision to relax COVID-19 restrictions and hoped the move wouldn’t create more hospitalizations and virus cases. 

“We will be able to see in a couple of weeks what will come of this,” said Tri-County deputy director Jennifer Ludwig.  

Polis announced late Wednesday that he’ll move counties in Red territory on the state’s COVID-19 dial to Orange-level rules. That would allow most businesses to operate at 25% capacity in Arapahoe, Adams and Douglas counties. The governor’s order came as the effects of holiday gatherings are still unclear. 

Ludwig said Tri-County officials, who implement the public health orders for the Aurora region, learned of the decision just five minutes before Polis posted to social media Wednesday night.

Following some backlash from other public health authorities, Ludwig said she’s not sure whether Polis’ decision will undue virus trends that are just beginning to improve after the state’s massive surge in November and December. 

Ludwig said state health officials, acting on orders from Polis, did not say why the governor made the decision.

Polis has not explained his decision in light of incidence rates remaining high enough to keep the Aurora region under tightened restrictions under the state’s own guidelines. He did point to “a sustained decline for 13 days” and that “only 73% of ICU beds statewide are in use” in his announcement.

“It has not been explained to us from the state health department,” Ludwig said. 

Polis did offer more of an explanation to Reporter Marianne Goodland for Colorado Politics and the Colorado Springs Gazette.

Polis was working toward “regional cohesion,” he told Colorado Politics, in hopes of preventing regulation disparity among adjacent communities governed by multiple health departments and counties.

“You want to move as a unit,” Polis told Colorado Politics. “We are comfortable with pushing everyone in that direction … and we feel good enough about the numbers that a shift is warranted and ready and in the interest of public health and the economy.”

Even though local jurisdictions technically have the ability to write their own rules, Ludwig said Tri-County officials will follow the Governor’s orders. 

She said Tri-County will have to wait for more information from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment before crafting its new public health orders next week. 

Polis’ sudden decision also threw into jeopardy the Five-Star credit program for businesses, which allows some businesses to operate with relaxed rules if they work harder to contain the virus. Arapahoe County retracted a statement Thursday saying businesses that earn a Five Star designation will be able to operate under Yellow restrictions while in level Orange. 

The state is apparently still working through that.

Ludwig said as of Thursday Five-Star businesses will still operate under Orange capacity limits for the time being. 

As of Thursday afternoon, hospitals in Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties remained well below a 90% capacity threshold that sounds alarm bells at Tri-County and might lead to tighter rules again, Ludwig said. Hospitalizations, deaths and virus case counts have also declined after peaks in mid-December. 

“We’ve been steadily coming down, and that is good news,” she said. 

Officials will be watching in the weeks after Aurora residents and businesses enjoy the relaxed rules, Ludwig said.

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