El Paso County Commissioners blast enhanced COVID-19 restrictions


EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. — After failing to negotiate further delaying enhanced COVID-19 restrictions for El Paso County, most of the county’s commissioners spent their weekly meeting blasting Governor Jared Polis on Tuesday.

“I already told the Governor to stuck it three weeks ago,” Commissioner Loginos Gonzales said.” I absolutely disagree with the decision of the state.”

Monday, El Paso County Public Health and Environment (EPCPH) announced the Colorado Department of Health and Environment had required the county to move to the red level “Severe Risk” category of the state’s COVID-19 dial framework in response to a number of increasing metrics associated to the pandemic. The move to increased safety precautions to curb COVID-19’s spread means no indoor dining and decreased capacity in gyms, offices and places of worship.

Commissioner Holly Williams said EPCPH had been trying to negotiate with the state to allow the county to stay in the “Orange High Risk” category through the weekend in order for small businesses to be able to have a close-to-normal operation for the post-Thanksgiving shopping weekend, often highlighted by Small Business Saturday.

“We have had a little wiggle room,” Commissioner Holly Williams said. “We were still surprised it was cut off halfway through the weekend. We don’t feel we’ve been in Level Orange long enough to justify moving to the Level Red.”

Williams thinks typical shopping behavior will bring people to the stores that are open and have sales, particularly on Black Friday—a sentiment fellow commissioners agree with.

“As was seen during the first shut down: Big box stores and corporations will thrive and small businesses will starve, again,” Gonzales said.

Gonzales pointed to a decrease test-positivity rate as a reason to justify holding current safety measures in place. Positivity rates did drop from 14.71% last week to 14.61% reported on November 23, though public health experts that include the county’s hospital leaders have said a sustained decrease over two weeks is needed in order to interpret a trend in the spread of COVID-19.

“That’s what we are wanting to see as conservative commissioners—if you’re going to shut down our economy and cause a lot of pain and suffering to small businesses and restaurants, please show the community some data to justify that,” Williams said.

The data, however, is largely not in the favor of the commissioner’s wishes. Total hospitalizations, average hospital admissions, and case incidence have are all sustaining increases:

  • Daily Case Increase (14-Day Average): Nov. 16: 523.9; Nov. 23: 594.4 (+13.5%)
  • 14-Day Average Hospitalizations of COVID-19 Patients: Nov. 16: 156; Nov. 23: 173.3 (+11.1%)
  • Daily Hospital Count of COVID-19 Patients: Nov. 16: 156; Nov. 23: 214 (37.2%)

“I think it’s time for every Coloradan, and that includes county elected officials, to really ask themselves: Are you on the side of the virus or are you on the side of Colorado?” Gov. Polis said, responding to a question about defiant counties during his regular briefing Tuesday.

During Tuesday’s briefing, Gov. Polis revealed there were 14 ICU beds still open in Colorado Springs.

That data has been long hard to come by, even for commissioners Williams said. The county’s public health website gives a synopsis of daily COVID admissions and total COVID patients in the hospital, but not an ICU bed count.

“That, I think, was one of the missing links I needed,” Williams said. “Having only a few beds left in Colorado Springs I think it’s a big factor in helping people understand how serious this disease is right now.”

Williams stands by her view that small businesses should be given as much opportunity to operate as close to normally as possible in the post-Thanksgiving weekend.

For the hospitals part, UCHealth’s Dr. David Steinbruner has told FOX21 that less COVID patients need ICU-level care now as compared to the beginning of the pandemic.

Hospitals are currently in surge plans to accommodate the increase in patients, including limiting non-emergency procedures.

Centura’s Penrose-St. Francis says their hospitals have been constantly working in a transperant way over the course of the pandemic.

“The pandemic’s public health and economic impact on individuals, families, businesses, and our communities have been unprecedented,” Centura Health CEO Peter Banko said. “It is not our intent to further disrupt health, well-being, or economic development. We made and kept our commitment since March to put our caregivers first, be transparent in our reporting to help inform public health decision making and be strong public advocates for strong public health measures. ICU capacity – which frequently changes day to day or even multiple times a day – is just one of the metrics we report twice daily. That number alone – absent other important measures – does not provide a reliable or even a meaningful view of our capabilities. We remain confident in Centura’s Penrose and St. Francis hospitals’ physicians’ and associates’ ability to continue to care for all patients – especially right now when you need us most.”

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