Montezuma County To Submit Order Exemption Request To State Health Department

Apr 29, 2020

The Montezuma County Commission, operating as the Board of Health, has voted to approve an exemption request from Colorado’s safer-at-home order, pending support from local health officials. 

Last week, the commission started a draft plan as the state’s stay-at-home order approached its end. On Thursday, the plan was scrapped in support of guidelines introduced by Gov. Jared Polis for the easing of social and business restrictions. And in another reversal Tuesday, the commission decided to seek the exemption from some of those restrictions.

A copy of the county’s plan has not been made available to the public. Discussion during Wednesday’s meeting led to some changes that county administrator Shak Powers said would be made in the document before presenting for signatures Thursday.

Vicki Shaffer, the county’s public information officer, said the plan will be released once formalized, which could be next week. Shaffer added it’s the county’s understanding that the county public health department will sign on. KSJD confirmed Thursday with Southwest Health System that it will also sign on, dependent on viewing the finalized post-meeting plan.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment requires support from local health departments and health care systems when considering exemptions. 

Note: Southwest Health System is an underwriter of KSJD.

Even with support from all parties, CDPHE has the final say - and that response could take several days or a couple of weeks, based on similar processes. Eagle and Mesa counties recently received exemption approvals from the state for their plans, including a greater capacity for places of worship and allowing restaurant dining rooms to reopen at limited occupancy.

The state currently has plans to revisit dine-in capacity at restaurants in the coming weeks after monitoring case data and coronavirus spread. Montezuma County, in one of its points, hopes to allow dining rooms to open sooner at 40% capacity.

As the group turned to discuss regulations for wearing masks, Commissioner Larry Don Suckla said the county should give some leeway to those who don’t comply. He also challenged the effectiveness of masks, despite evidence and federal guidance on how homemade masks can minimize spread from asymptomatic carriers.

“I think the masks are absolutely ridiculous,” Suckla said.

His comment prompted a response from SHS CEO Tony Sudduth, who said he will not approve a plan if officials will flout public health safety.

“There’s no way I’m supporting, moving anything forward if we have this type of attitude in this county,” Sudduth said.

The two then started a tense exchange in which both accused the other of trying to “destroy the community.” Commissioner Jim Candelaria stepped in to stop the argument, adding that he is willing to ask workers to wear masks, even if he doesn’t enjoy wearing them himself.

As in previous meetings, the MCPHD stressed the need for flexibility in retightening restrictions if cases climb. Dr. Kent Aikin, the county’s public health physician, compared fighting the coronavirus while supporting the economy to controlled burns used in wildfire mitigation.

“How can we best manage it if flames start to flare up a bit?” Aikin asked.

MCPHD director Bobbi Lock added that the so-called “trigger points” that would tighten restrictions again should not be up against the max resources available, such as hospital beds. Working with a lower ceiling, she said, is the best preventive measure to avoid a surge.

This article will be updated as additional information, including the formal exemption request, is made available.