Larimer County commissioners want to reopen classrooms, apply for ‘Protect Our Neighbors’ status


The Larimer County commissioners have asked the county’s board of health to recommend to local school districts that they institute in-classroom learning as soon as possible.

The commissioners said they and local residents are frustrated by apparent inconsistencies in how schools are functioning in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. That frustration was expressed during a Tuesday commissioners’ meeting that included a discussion with Tom Gonzales, the county’s public health director.

Commissioner Tom Donnelly asked why school buildings may be used for child care and Colorado State University may have its residence halls open but classroom instruction is considered unsafe.

“I don’t understand the disconnect that can say we can open CSU but we can’t open elementary schools,” Donnelly told Gonzales. “It doesn’t make any sense at all to me.”

Gonzales said the ability to turn around tests for the coronavirus with 48 hours is critical for opening schools to in-person instruction.

Colorado State University worked with a private lab to reach that milestone, he said. The university also has systems in place to do contact tracing for positive cases and to quarantine students who have been exposed. The protocols are intended to limit the spread of the virus.

COVID-19: Update of latest numbers for Larimer County

The county health department announced last week it has reached an agreement with the state health department and a private lab to get results of 80% of tests done in the county within 48 hours.

Colorado State University and local school districts made their own decisions about how schools may operate, noted Commissioner John Kefalas.

Since the county can turn around tests within 48 hours, Kefalas asked Gonzales whether the county health department would recommend school districts consider allowing students into classrooms.

“From a public health lens, absolutely we feel confident that we have all the pieces of the puzzle in place to get some level of in-person schooling for K through 12,” Gonzales said.

Poudre School District students are learning remotely until at least Oct. 19, which is the end of the first quarter.

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Commissioner Steve Johnson sent an email Tuesday to the Larimer County Board of Health, which oversees the county health department, asking it to give “urgent consideration” to recommending school districts return to in-person learning.

The commissioners also asked the board to apply to the state health department for its less restrictive “Protect Our Neighbors” status in terms of COVID-19 response.

The county meets all of the state’s criteria for the Protect Our Neighbors level except the number of positive cases per 100,000 residents over the past 14 days. The state’s standard is 25 per 100,000; Larimer County has averaged 75 per 100,000 in recent days.

Johnson argued the number reflects how much testing the county has been doing. If less testing were done, the number would be lower.

The county meets or exceeds the state’s other standards, including the number of hospitalized COVID patients, availability of hospital beds, and overall infection rate.

“In a sense, we are being penalized for doing a lot of testing, which is a good thing, and not being rewarded for the excellent work the department and county residents have been doing,” Johnson wrote the board of health.

Kevin Duggan is a senior columnist and reporter. Contact him at Support his work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.