Guest opinion: Medical expertise absent on our County Health Board
In Garfield County, the three commissioners have decided that they themselves would be the sole members of our County Health Board. Given the fact that none of the commissioners have any medical or public health expertise, we have grave concerns about this decision.
Every county in Colorado is required to have a County Health Board to develop and promote policies to protect the health of that community. In a major health crisis like that of the Covid pandemic, this board is more important than ever.
Larger counties — those with populations of 100,000 or more — are required by law to include at least five health experts and community members on their County Health Boards.
We believe that the residents of Garfield County would be much better served by a County Health Board that includes medical and public health experts.
Including health experts on this board would help to ensure that policy decisions are being made based on sound scientific evidence. Currently, it is unclear where the commissioners are getting their information about Covid.
The US Centers for Disease Control is widely accepted as a reliable source for factual information on public health. The county’s own public health department has cited CDC information as fact. However, some of the commissioners’ comments suggest that they have taken the extreme stance of rejecting CDC as a reliable source of information.
For example, the CDC clearly states that Covid is more deadly than the regular flu, yet Commissioner John Martin said that he believes this issue is “a matter of opinion.”
Commissioner Tom Jankovsky was a featured speaker at the Stay Free Colorado rally in Glenwood Springs Jan. 30, where he announced that he believes that Covid was intentionally created by China “to take us down as a country” — a theory that has been repeatedly touted by Donald Trump, despite lack of any evidence.
Including health science experts on our County Health Board would help to ensure that the policy decisions of our county are based on more reliable sources of information than extreme right-wing political talking points and tweets.
Health experts could also provide much-needed input on essential messaging that should be developed and promoted around Covid. While the commissioners have stated that people should wear masks because it is the law, they have said little about the effectiveness of masks. At a public meeting in early December, the commissioners were asked specifically to put out messaging regarding the effectiveness of masks. They have yet to do so.
Commissioner Jankovsky’s presence at the Stay Free Colorado rally, where other speakers stated that masks serve little purpose and mask mandates are a form of “tyranny,” sends the wrong message to our community about masks.
Similarly, the county should be actively promoting messaging about the vaccine. Again, Jankovsky’s decision to be a guest speaker at the rally, where other speakers warned people against getting the vaccine, sends the wrong message to our community.
The commissioners should be promoting messaging — loud and clear — about the safety and the importance of the vaccine. Such messaging could go a long way in terms of convincing people to get the vaccine — which is absolutely essential to getting our lives back to normal and our businesses back on their feet as soon as possible.
Another important role of the County Health Board is to increase the availability of public health services to all community members.
Perhaps including health experts on our board could have altered the commissioners’ unfortunate decision last November to reject the $30,000 in grant funds we could have received to implement a Promotoras Health Program for Spanish-speakers in our community. Perhaps health experts could have helped our commissioners understand that the highest priority for our entire community at that time should have been curbing the spread of the virus among any and all members of our community.
Since the start of the pandemic, many of the commissioners’ decisions and communications — as well as lack of communications — regarding Covid have raised serious questions about their ability to serve as the sole members of our County Health Board. It’s not too late for the commissioners to expand that board to include medical and public health experts. Better late than never.
It’s time for the commissioners to recognize their limited knowledge of health science and draw on the expertise of health science professionals if they are to adequately serve our community through this time of the pandemic.
Debbie Bruell of Carbondale is chair of the Garfield County Democrats.
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