ARAPAHOE COUNTY, Colo. — Individual counties can no longer opt out of the Tri-County Health Department's school mask mandate, the board determined Monday.
The board also passed a new mask mandate, requiring masks for people above the age of 2 in all schools and childcare facilities.
Douglas County and Adams County commissioners had previously voted to opt out of a similar mask mandate. The Arapahoe County Board of Commissioners had not opted out, but planned to discuss the issue in a meeting Tuesday morning, if the TCHD had left the opt-out option in place.
The TCHD board voted during a meeting that included a presentation by TCHD executive director John Douglas, who provided data on COVID transmission among children in Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties and discussed the rationale for the health department's school mask mandate.
"The current opt-out approach has created concern and confusion among many local officials and residents," Douglas told the board.
After rescinding the opt-out policy by a vote of 5-3, the TCHD board rescinded the school mask mandate which Adams and Douglas Counties had opted out of. They quickly replaced it with a new mandate requiring masks for anyone over the age of 2 in schools and childcare facilities, which will go into effect September 1. This time, counties cannot opt out.
"As I think about this, I’m not considering politics, I’m thinking about children," said board member Julie Schilz, who voted for the mask mandate.
"The numbers don’t support masking these kids," said board member Kevin Bracken, who voted against the mask mandate. "We are collectively masking the wrong demographic. We’re masking the least at-risk demographic."
Previously, individual school districts could still require masks, even if their counties had opted out. The Douglas County School District said it would still follow the public health order and require masks. Adams 12 Five Star Schools also announced it didn't plan to change its mask policy, despite the Adams County commissioners' vote.
The school mask mandate was the subject of two meetings Monday, as Arapahoe County considered whether to join Douglas and Adams counties in opting out.
The Arapahoe County Board of Commissioners held a study session Monday to discuss the county's options regarding that public health order.
The Arapahoe County commissioners board encouraged residents to submit their opinions ahead of their meeting in support of or against opting out of the order, and they got 18,472 responses.
Chris Henning, the county's communications director, told commissioners during their study session on Monday that of the 18,472 responses, only 6,310 were deemed valid. The other 12,162 were disqualified for several reasons.
Of the disqualified responses, 1,055 were sent from IP addresses outside the state of Colorado or outside the United States, while 10,961 came from IP addresses that submitted two or more responses.
One single IP address sent nearly 6,800 responses. Another IP address submitted about 2,300, according to a summary presented to the board.
Of the qualified responses, Henning said 45% supported staying with the TCHD public health order, and 55% wanted the county to opt out.
The commissioners also heard from Douglas, who presented data on COVID-19 cases and transmission in Arapahoe, Adams and Douglas counties. He explained why TCHD includes masks in its public health order, saying masks are 50% to 70% effective at preventing COVID-19 transmission.
For the most part, commissioners didn't indicate which way they would vote on an opt-out, except for Jeff Baker, who said he supports opting out of the mask mandate.
The board agreed to wait until the TCHD board held its meeting later Monday because if the TCHD board got rid of its opt-out option, then the question of whether Arapahoe County would opt out would be made moot.
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