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GarCo report: The highs and lows of Garfield County governance

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The Garfield Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) took six and a half hours to address the Jan. 17 agenda. For the recording of the entire meeting, visit: www.garfield-county.com 

COVID update

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The county’s newly-appointed director of public health, Josh Williams, appeared for his first Board of Health (BOH) meeting in that position. As a reminder, the commissioners also serve as the BOH. Williams gave an update on COVID-19 and the status of the Omicron variant. 

According to Williams, county and state models project that infections will peak this week or next. He also mentioned that other viruses, such as the respiratory syncytial, are circulating, particularly among children. 

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Commissioner Tom Jankovsky inquired as to whether the whooping cough kids are experiencing is related to Omicron. Williams responded, “The croup kind of conditions are due to how the Omicron seems to be affecting the upper airway, more than it is deep lung tissue like Delta and some of the other variants.” 

Compared to other variants, Omicron “is definitely more contagious from what we’re seeing across the spectrum. But, my reference to the hospital and our medical partners is that the severity of the illness is milder,” Williams confirmed. He noted that high-risk individuals can still experience more severe symptoms and stated, “Most of the long-term care facilities are in an active outbreak [and] a lot of congregate settings are at high risk.” 

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Jankovsky brought up that — with 200 cases a day, compared to 30 cases on average during the Delta surge — he’d assume contact tracing is not feasible. Williams indicated that the commissioner had a point. “We have prioritized contact tracing … looking at the most vulnerable populations,” he stated. 

Commissioner Jankovsky mentioned a recent report from the health department which references an article by oncologist Ezekiel Emanuel. The referenced article asks, in part, “When does this virus become one of the several viruses that are considered to be acceptable risk thresholds?”

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From the same report Jankovsky read a quote from Williams stating, “‘it’s time for us to start to looking at a strategic change within the health department.’” The commissioner then rhetorically inquired, “How does that strategic change happen, where we go from this being a pandemic to endemic and something we’re going to have to live with, and we can start to get back to normal?”

School direction

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“It’s been our direction to public health that we defer decision making to the school boards on health issues in the school,” explained Jakovsky. “Or, if it’s a private school, either to their boards or decision makers … I would like to see us formalize that in a motion.” 

Several parents of children enrolled in local schools were present, largely in support of doing away with COVID-19 regulations in the schools — including masking and quarantining. 

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Commissioner Mike Samson asked, “Well, do we want to specifically say ‘no mask mandates, no quarantine mandates?’” He was interrupted by applause from the room full of attendees. 

While the BOH can advise that masks shouldn’t be required in schools, each school’s decision making body will have the discretion to make a final decision. Williams further clarified that the health department directs schools to the state Department of Education for guidance. 

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After hearing a plethora of sentiments, the commissioners passed a motion to draft a resolution clarifying the BOH’s position: to advise and not mandate schools on public health guidelines. The county attorney said they would do their best to draft a resolution in time for the next BOCC meeting. 

Coastin’

Next up, Steve Beckley, owner of Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, appeared regarding his intent to build the new Defiance Rollercoaster. In March 2021, the applicant submitted a request for the “determination of consistency” to the county’s community development director. 

According to a 2015 resolution, “Uses consistent with the character of the existing facility shall be permitted. Determination of consistency may be requested by the director of building and planning, whose decision may be appealed to the BOCC.” 

In this case, Community Development Director Sheryl Bower found that the applicant’s original pitch in March indicated the roller coaster would not be visible from downtown Glenwood Springs. Later, it was determined otherwise.

Bower agreed that adjusting the language of a decision letter acknowledging the visibility would resolve the hiccup. With that, she left the decision to the BOCC. 

Beckley noted, “We’ve used this process multiple times in the past for other attractions … I think this is just one that got caught up in confusion. But, this has been a good process for us to add or subtract attractions to our park.” 

The commissioners passed a motion approving the determination for consistency, with a caveat: “The proposed roller coaster is visible from downtown Glenwood Springs. But, given its location, distance from downtown and muted color, it does not negatively impact the scenic qualities of the area and is therefore ‘consistent with the character of the existing facility.’”

According to the applicant, parts for the roller coaster are being shipped from Germany this week. 

Tags: #county government #COVID-19 #Garfield County #Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park
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