County addresses concerns about COVID-19 variance plan

RIO GRANDE COUNTY- During a special meeting hosted by Rio Grande County Commissioners, the board addressed some concerns about the rising COVID-19 cases in the county and how it may or may not affect the variance that is currently in place. At the time of the meeting, the State of Colorado had already issued new orders that superseded the orders that were in place for several establishments throughout the county including churches, restaurants, RV park common areas and gyms.

Since the issuance of the COVID-19 variance, the commissioners have made several changes in their Public Health department including hiring Interim Public Health Director Paul Wertz who has been with the department for several years. The commissioners have been working closely with Wertz to reconstruct the department in order to ensure that every resource is used and work is delegated throughout department employees to cut back on caseloads as the numbers of positive cases in the county continue to rise.

Commissioner Chairman John Noffsker pointed out that Wertz was able to secure help from several registered nurses that had offered assistance at the beginning of the pandemic but were never utilized. “We now know about a resource that we can utilize to help delegate tasks more efficiently and appropriately so that work is spread out in the department and not weighing our nurses down.”

Cases as of Wednesday, June 3, had risen above 10 percent which is where the trigger point was placed in the county’s variance plan. According to Noffsker the county was at 10.49 percent and the CDPHE had been notified. “We are in a position to work with CDPHE before they shut us down because of the new resources we have in the Public Health department. We are now able to handle more than 10 percent positive cases. As of right now, everything is still in place and no changes are being made. ”

“The 10 percent was artificially set based on the capacity of the Public Health Department to respond to and investigate COVID-19 cases and we have since found out that we have more resources to rely on,” continued Noffsker.

The commissioners ended the brief conversation to enter into executive session to discuss a letter that had been submitted to the board accusing them of wrongful actions though details pertaining to the contents of the letter remain unknown. Rio Grande County Attorney Ryan Dunn stated that there were certain components of the letter that had to be discussed in executive session.

Noffsker did state that, “This is a public document, and we can discuss it, but our response to it will be held in executive session. There are significant material errors in this letter, and quite frankly, it was factually incorrect. The Public Health Director does not work for the county commissioners, they work for the Board of Health. That is only the beginning of the errors and we can go through the entire letter without even responding to the unprofessional approach on this letter.”

The commissioners then adjourned the regular session and reconvened in executive session. The response to the letter has yet to be released.   


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