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Custer County defies state, lifts COVID-19 restrictions

State officials said the county is expected to continue following public health orders after the county's Board of Health voted last week to go back to "normal."

DENVER — Custer County may not have the authority to do so but that's not stopping county officials from defying the state and lifting their own COVID-19 restrictions.

Last week, the county board voted 2-to-1 to go back to "normal" and let all the county's businesses open up as much as they want to, effective immediately. The county still suggested that people wear masks and social distance.

Following that vote, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) said that the county couldn't do that.

"Custer County does not have the authority to lift its own restrictions," CDPHE said in a statement to 9NEWS. "We expect all counties to abide by all executive and public health orders."

"We are contacting Custer County to remind them of the current executive and public health orders that remain in place statewide. We must all continue to work together to slow disease transmission."

Tuesday morning, Custer County officials responded to the state reiterating their decision to lift restrictions and called the Custer County Board of Health's vote to return to normal "courageous".  They noted that "for months" Gov. Jared Polis (D-Colorado) championed the ability of counties to act "in their own best interests."

Officials also said their citizens and businesses can now "choose how and when to progress" but said health leaders will help establish "best practices" for a return to normal.

RELATED: Custer County Board of Health votes to end all COVID-19 restrictions

> Video above: Colorado county votes to end all COVID-19 restrictions.

During a Wednesday meeting last week the county's public health director, Clifford Brown, said he thought the state would not let the county move to Level Green, which was the loosest restrictions on the dial. But he said state officials he talked to led him to believe one of Polis' recent executive orders would allow the county to move itself to "normal" and opt out of the state's public health order entirely.

The executive order issued Feb. 23 said, "if a county is moved 'back to normal' off the dial entirely because of a major reduction in transmission or risk, it will no longer be subject to this Executive Order and the corresponding PHO." The order does not clarify who is allowed to decide when a county moves off the dial.

CDPHE said no counties have been authorized to move off the dial. The department's statement said it has worked with public health departments and counties on the state's dial "to address the unique challenges created by the COVID pandemic."

CDPHE amended its public health order on the COVID-19 on Sunday to say counties can't move or go off the dial without CDPHE approval.

Custer County, which is home to about 4,200 people, is currently in Level Blue on the dial. It has had less than four new cases in the last week, a positivity rate of 0% and no new hospitalizations, according to the state's dashboard.

The Board of Health said if cases go up, Custer County would try to go back on the state's dial. They discussed a threshold of a 3.5% positivity rate, but did not decide on a final metric. The board said it would meet again March 10 to monitor data and further develop guidelines and recommendations.

This story includes previous reporting by 9NEWS reporters Katie Eastman and Sam Bergum.

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