Adams County opts out of Tri-County students mask order

Commissioner Lynn Baca also endorses Adams County leaving the Tri-County Health Department

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The Adams County Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 on Tuesday to opt out of a Tri-County Health Department order that requires masks for kids ages 2 to 11 in indoor school and child-care settings. 

The commissioners' decision now bestows authority about masks with local school districts and their boards. Most districts in Adams County currently require masks for younger students.

After the meeting, spokespeople for Mapleton Public Schools, 27J Schools and Westminster Public Schools said the districts were keeping the current mask guidance. A spokesperson for Adams 12 Five Star Schools said the district was evaluating its current mask guidance and the opt-out decision.

The county board meeting was an opportunity for a group of citizens to protest and for commissioners to clarify stances on public health decision-making.

Board chairperson Eva Henry and Commissioners Chaz Tedesco and Lynn Baca voted to opt out of the order that Tri-County's board approved Aug. 17. Commissioners Emma Pinter and Steve O'Dorisio voted against opting out.

Prior to the commissioners' public hearing on Tuesday morning, a group of parents gathered for a rally and prayer outside the Adams County Government Center.

The group then made its way to the board chambers. Once the board meeting began, the commissioners immediately added a resolution to the agenda to opt out of the Tri-County order because the item wasn't originally on the agenda.

Henry formally motioned to approve the resolution for opting out.

“County commissioners are not health experts and should not be in the position of making decisions about our residents' health. That decision should be up to our health department,” she said.

Henry said the Tri-County order is inherently flawed because it created the option to opt out, which puts the onus on commissioners. Henry said she still agrees with the intent of the order and supports mask-wearing.

When Henry motioned to approve the resolution, the audience cheered in response.

Tedesco and Baca echoed Henry. Baca went a step further, though, and said the current predicament makes a case for Adams County leaving the Tri-County Health Department. Baca said county staff briefed her on the idea in January when she became a commissioner, but the county had not taken formal action.

The board is expected to discuss the idea of leaving Tri-County in October, Baca said.

“When we undertake our discussion in October to leave Tri-County Health, I will hold all of us accountable that we go through this transformational change of providing a better health system overall, that we have better leadership," Baca said. "We have great leadership now, but we just cannot live, and we cannot stand under an opt-out order.”

Pinter felt differently. “They (Tri-County) have made a recommendation, it is our job to take the recommendation of those members of the board of health who quite frankly have put their lives on the line, who have feared for their safety.”

Pinter became emotional, especially after seeing that a majority of the board supported opting out. Just seconds before the board voted, she said, “I would implore my colleagues to use our authority that we have delegated to Tri-County health and take the recommendation seriously and follow this order, which is designed to protect our children.”

Pinter's comments were met by boos and hisses from audience members. Others made jazz hands — a motion that a leader of the protesters encouraged people to motion early in the meeting as an alternative to shouting out — though that ultimately did not discourage the heckling.

Then, after the vote, parents and some local school district students spoke during public comments. Despite the opt out resolution passing, public commenters still chose to criticize the Tri-County order and the commissioners who voted against opting out.

“I don't know what your agenda was, but it certainly wasn't for them today,” Dixie Easton said to Pinter and O'Dorisio, pointing to a group of students she asked to stand up to make her argument.

Adams County is the second after Douglas County to opt out of Tri-County's order.

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