Arapahoe County to hold virtual town hall on state of pandemic Thursday evening

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AURORA | Arapahoe County will hold a telephone town hall Thursday evening to update residents on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and provide information from the Tri-County Health Department.

The  6 p.m. meeting comes on the heels of a flurry of objections to the health agency’s recent decision to require young students to wear masks in school. Adams County commissioners this week voted to withdraw from the health agency’s student mask mandate.

Tri-County oversees public health in Adams, Douglas and Arapahoe counties. Douglas County has already moved to opt out of the mandate. Arapahoe commissioners have not so far made any indication they would opt out of any Tri-County health mandate.

The mask mandate followed advice from Tri-County and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urging schools to have all students and teachers wear masks indoors due to the extra-transmissible delta variant of the virus. 

While there is no state mandate for students in place, Gov. Jared Polis said at a news conference this week that mask-wearing is an important factor for returning to in-person learning. 

A survey of Colorado parents by conservative-leaning Magellan Strategies released Tuesday found that half of parents do not want students to be required to wear masks in schools. Many parents have also spoken out against mask mandates at school board and county commissioner meetings across the region over the past month.

One of the reasons given by parents is that masks are dangerous for students because they negatively impact their mental health. According to local pediatricians, this should not be a cause for concern.

“Masks are not harmful to children’s mental health,” according to an FAQ about masks from Children’s Hospital Colorado. “They need to be back in school and have connections with other kids and adults to improve their mental health. Right now, wearing masks is the best way to ensure that will happen.”

In a panel discussion last week hosted by 9News and the Denver Gazette, child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Steven Berkowitz said that a lack of consistency and not knowing what to expect in the future is a major stressor for young people right now.

Having to stop and start in-person learning is especially hard on kids, he said during the discussion. He said he personally supports universal mandates because they help set expectations.

“I think it’s incredibly unfair to parents and kids to have to make a decision about whether to wear a mask,” Berkowitz said. “I think most people want clarity, they want leadership to make a decision.”

The main factor the state is currently using to evaluate COVID-19 is hospital ICU capacity. As of Wednesday 680 people are hospitalized statewide for COVID-19, well below Colorado’s total capacity. However, pediatric hospital beds are in short supply locally.

“Children’s Hospital Colorado locations are experiencing high patient volumes in our emergency departments and inpatient units, which is something we manage every winter,” pediatric emergency medicine specialist Dr. Kevin Carney told the Sentinel in a statement. “However, it is highly unusual and concerning for us to see volumes this high at this point in the year, especially when we know we’ll have more patients once school is fully in session and more viruses circulate.” 

Workforce shortages affecting the entire healthcare industry are also currently being felt at the hospital, he said.

“To help reduce the risk of spreading viruses and “flatten the curve for kids,” it’s more crucial than ever for parents and leaders to partner with us and take protective measures, like washing hands frequently and wearing masks in schools,” Carney said.

The town hall will be from 6-7 p.m., according to a news release. Listen in and ask questions by calling 855-436-3656 or through a livestream at arapahoegov.com/townhall.

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