Douglas County Commissioners George Teal, Lora Thomas and Abe Laydon. (Provided by Douglas County)

This story first appeared in a Colorado Community Media newspaper. Support CCM’s neighborhood news. The Colorado Sun is an owner of CCM.

By Elliott Wenzler,

Douglas County commissioners have unanimously voted to form their own health department and board of health, formally splitting from the Tri-County Health Department. 

The move, in a work session Wednesday, comes just a few days after Tri-County Health’s board voted to no longer allow counties to opt out of COVID-19 public health orders and enacted a mask mandate for all students and staff in school settings.

The agency administers public health programs in Douglas as well as Arapahoe and Adams counties.

The county will now have 90 days to form its own board of health. That board will then select an executive director for the county’s health department, according to the county attorney.

Commissioner Abe Laydon also moved that county staff issue a statement informing the public on the decision to form a new health department and also asserting that, according to their interpretation, “the unilateral mask order on Monday is not enforceable,” he said.

Normally, counties are required to give the health department one year’s notice before they leave, but during the work session, County Attorney Lance Ingalls explained that he believes there is a strong legal argument for why that’s not needed this time.

Ingalls said that because Tri-County had recently voted to rescind the opt-out option — a negotiated agreement between the two entities — an earlier notification of withdrawal from the county, in July of 2020, was still intact.

The county has already paid for services from Tri-County for the rest of the year and plans to continue receiving those services, just with a Douglas County-specific board of health in charge of governance, officials said.