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Northern Colorado healthcare leaders ask Weld County to reconsider 'safer-at-work' plan

The county's plan would allow all businesses to reopen if they want to, contradicting statewide orders issued by Gov. Jared Polis.

GREELEY, Colo. — Leaders of several of the largest hospitals and clinics in Northern Colorado sent a letter Saturday to Weld County commissioners urging them to reconsider their "safer-at-work" plan.

The letter, obtained by 9NEWS, outlines concerns from the health-care leaders that reopening businesses in Weld County too soon and too quickly could lead to a surge in COVID-19 cases that could overwhelm hospitals and clinics.

"Opening too soon or without a staged plan will negate the community, individuals, and businesses' hard sacrifices to-date and lead to widespread, severe illness that our healthcare system cannot handle. The resulting deaths will be tragic," the letter says. "... We can rebuild business - we cannot replace lives that are lost. We implore you to reconsider your 'Safer-at-Work' plan. Please lead a staged, slow opening of the economy."

The letter is signed by: Margo Karsten, Banner Health's western region president; Hoyt Skabelund, CEO of Northern Colorado Banner Health hospitals; Kevin Unger, president and CEO of Poudre Valley Hospital, Medical Center of the Rockies, and UCHealth Northern Colorado; Marilyn Schock, president of UCHealth Greeley Hospital; Mitzi Moran, CEO of Sunrise Community Clinic; and John Santistevan, president and CEO of Salud Family Health Centers.

The Weld County Board of Commissioners and the Weld County Department of Public Health and Environment dubbed their strategy the “safer-at-work” plan, in clear contrast to the “safer-at-home” plan that Colorado Gov. Jared Polis announced last week.

RELATED: Weld County lays out 'safer-at-work' plan (with precautions)

Polis’ option calls for a gradual reopening of businesses throughout the state. Beginning on Monday, for example, retail businesses can offer curbside service. Elective surgeries can begin again, and salons can re-open with strict protocols. Restaurant dining rooms will remain closed.

The chairman of the Weld County commissioners, Mike Freeman, told 1310 KFKA Radio that the county will not direct businesses to open, but it will provide guidelines for all of them to do so if they choose.

“This will be for businesses, in general, to open across the board,” he told KFKA. “I think the governor's been pretty clear all along that his orders are unenforceable.”

Freeman also said that this does not mean “business as usual.” The county’s guidelines include limiting groups to 10 people, keeping 6 feet between individuals, and a recommendation for physical barriers.

As of Saturday, Weld County had at least 1,430 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Only two counties in the state had more cases, Denver and Arapahoe, which have much larger populations.

The letter sent to commissioners paints a picture of the impact that a surge in COVID-19 cases could have on hospitals and clinics.

"We agree that economic hardship is a serious challenge," the letter says. "We also believe the immediate threat of death and serious illness related to COVID-19 needs to be further mitigated before the economy is fully reopened. Unified guidelines must be followed, opening must be staged."

Though hospitals and clinics in Northern Colorado have said they are not at capacity yet, the letter touches on the challenges that health-care workers in the area are facing.

"In our hospitals, we have never-before-seen numbers of patients relying on ventilators to stay alive," the letter says. "We see exhausted healthcare workers leaning in with courage and compassion, setting fear aside to care for hundreds of people fighting for their lives."

Weld County's "safer-at-work" order is set to take effect on Monday. 

RELATED: Colorado's 'Safer at Home' executive order in effect Monday

RELATED: Here are Colorado counties extending stay-at-home orders (or considering it)

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