Garfield County commissioners want schools to not lean too heavily on public health for COVID policies
Garfield County commissioners would rather public and private schools be allowed to set their own rules at this stage of the game around COVID-19 policies, rather than leaning too heavily on county public health to make those calls.
Not that that hasn’t been the case up to this point, commissioners and county public health officials said Monday.
But a resolution stating that public health only gives guidance, and doesn’t dictate those policies, is warranted, said the commissioners, sitting as the county Board of Health for the monthly COVID-19 update.
“It’s been our direction to public health from the beginning to defer decision-making to the school boards or private schools on these health issues,” Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said.
A formal resolution clarifying that schools in Garfield County can make their own decisions based on their individual circumstances is expected to be before the commissioners for consideration at a special Board of Health meeting next week.
Jankovsky’s comments came at the beginning and were restated at the end of a meeting attended by several Garfield Re-2 and a few Roaring Fork School District parents seeking clarification on the matter.
Many expressed frustration that the student isolation and quarantine protocols that schools continue to follow, under guidance from public health, seem excessive at this juncture.
Mask rules, which differ between the three school districts in the county, also continue to be a point of contention for some parents
“COVID is not killing our children,” said Re-2 parent Michelle Williams, “but we are killing our children with these guidelines.”
Carbondale resident Jill Edinger, who has been making the rounds speaking to commissioners from Garfield, Eagle and Pitkin counties, said the mental health toll on both children and parents is at the breaking point.
“I’m not tolerating this anymore,” Edinger said of ongoing quarantine protocols at her children’s primary and preschools in Glenwood Springs and Eagle County.
“I don’t want to hear, ‘kids are resilient’ anymore, because that’s just not the case for everyone,” she said. “The tide is shifting, but we need your pressure to help. Please stand up for our kids.”
Commissioner Mike Samson said he sympathized with the parents and their frustrations around the public health protocols, and especially the mask rules in schools.
“Masks are appropriate at certain times,” he said, referencing grocery stores and other private entities that require masks.
“If their policy says to wear a mask, I need to respect that, … but I don’t like the idea of children wearing a mask in school,” Samson said.
Ultimately, that decision is up to those running the schools, though, not the county, he said.
Regarding the schools, it’s also more an issue of staffing and having multiple teachers out sick and unable to teach that is driving the mask requirements, Samson observed.
Re-2 School Board President Meriya Stickler also attended the Monday commissioners meeting. The mask rule was implemented districtwide from Rifle to New Castle in late September last year to try to limit the number of quarantines that were becoming necessary, due to public health guidance.
“It is in the best interests of Re-2 to stop the quarantines, because we can’t manage it any longer,” she said, asking county public health to “release” the district from the current protocols that call for students and staff who test positive to isolate for a given period of time, and for those exposed to anyone who tests positive to also quarantine and not go to school.
“We do need some direction from public health that we won’t be responsible for that any longer,” she said.
Two of the newly elected members on the Re-2 board, Tony May and Britton Fletchall, during a meeting last week said they want the district to do away with all COVID protocols. (Read more about that in Thursday’s Citizen Telegram.)
The push comes as Garfield County, Colorado and much of the nation are seeing a huge spike in the number of new COVID-19 cases with the new omicron variant.
Though more contagious — even among those who are vaccinated, causing the case numbers to increase to levels never before seen in the county — the illness caused by omicron so far appears to be less severe, Garfield County Public Health Director Joshua Williams said during the Monday meeting.
That surge in new cases — hovering around 1,000 per week with a test positivity rate over 30% — is expected to peak this week or next, then begin to subside, he said.
Statewide modeling is showing that, as well, Williams said.
Hospitalization rates among county residents who contract COVID remain manageable, he said. However, the contagiousness among younger children and the emergence of croup as a new symptom in that age group, is cause for continued caution, he also said.
Because of the extreme number of cases currently, contact tracing for public health workers is now limited to individuals at highest risk for serious illness or death. That includes both older adults and children, Williams said.
Among the seven current outbreaks that are being monitored in the county, many are in long-term nursing care facilities and group homes, which remains a serious concern, he said.
The county commissioners also mentioned possibly calling a separate meeting inviting schools officials to further discuss the current situation with the pandemic and get some more clarification around the public health guidance. No specific date was set.
Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around Glenwood Springs and Garfield County make the Post Independent’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.