State Health Department Denies Montezuma County’s Exemption Request

May 13, 2020

Montezuma County’s request to ease some of the restrictions in Colorado’s safer-at-home order has been denied by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, citing concerns on the pace the coronavirus is spreading in and around the county. 

The letter from CDPHE, dated May 11, was posted to the county’s website Wednesday morning.

Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director of the CDPHE, wrote that the county can not safely ease the safer-at-home restrictions due to its proximity to hot spots and an increase in the county’s cases over the past 10 days.

Montezuma County borders San Juan County, New Mexico, where the per capita cases in the state are second only to McKinley County, directly to the south.

“Should Montezuma County release restrictions, it may pull visitors from that area and cause further spread,” Ryan wrote.

Ryan added that the health care system may become overwhelmed if restrictions are eased at this time. The department, she said, is also aware of an outbreak among those who are experiencing homelessness in the county.

Montezuma County sent its plan and request to CDPHE last week after coming to an agreement between the commission, the Montezuma County Public Health Department, and Southwest Health System. The plan included a “trigger point” that would reinstate restrictions if cases grew too quickly, along with a request to open dining rooms to 40% of capacity.

Note: Southwest Health System is an underwriter of KSJD.

Ryan’s letter said future requests will also need to include support from the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe. Chairman Manuel Heart has repeatedly stated in meetings and in video addresses that he believes both the county and the state are moving too quickly in easing restrictions.

Commission Chair Larry Don Suckla told KSJD he was upset with the denial and that the state is providing inconsistent regulations between counties. Suckla added he'll share a new strategy at a public meeting Thursday at 8:30 a.m. for the commission to discuss the department's decision. 

The meeting will be streamed live and recorded on the county's YouTube channel.

Commissioner Jim Candelaria shared his disappointment but declined to share further information prior to the meeting due to state transparency laws.

Gov. Jared Polis announced Monday that the state plans to come to a decision on additional reopenings, including dining rooms, by May 25.