County votes to follow governor’s Safer at Home order despite health department recommendation

SUN photo/John Finefrock

By John Finefrock
Staff Writer

The county commissioners voted to follow Gov. Jared Polis’ “Safer at Home” order despite the local health department recommending the county adopt stricter guidelines to reopen businesses amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Tuesday, the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) held a special meeting to vote on a resolution that declares that Archuleta County will follow the Safer at Home Executive Order issued by the governor.

Liane Jollon, executive director of San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH), advocated at the meeting that the commissioners take measures that are stricter than the governor’s order and delay some business reopenings by about a week.

SJBPH is the health department for both La Plata and Archuleta counties.

Earlier on Tuesday, SJBPH released “Safer La Plata,” a health order that implements a delayed, phased approach to reopening businesses, which did not include any mandates for Archuleta County.

Jollon confirmed in a phone call Wednesday she was advocating to the Archuleta County commissioners that they adopt identical measures as outlined in the “Safer La Plata” order.

Asked why Archuleta County wasn’t included in the “Safer La Plata” order, Jollon said, “La Plata County has a higher volume of cases and a higher volume per capita and is not showing the same stabilization trend, and has more regional connectivity with communities that are showing very steep rates of [COVID-19] growth at this time.”

Jollon explained on Tuesday La Plata County’s proximity to San Juan County, N.M., which has over 460 COVID-19 cases, was one of the factors in issuing the order.

At the Tuesday BoCC meeting, Jollon attended in person, clad in a cloth face mask, which she continued to wear while presenting to the BoCC.

The differences between Polis’ Safer at Home order and SJBPH’s “Safer La Plata” are as follows:

• The governor’s Safer at Home order allows retail and personal services to open on May 1 if the business implements best practices, and noncritical offices to reopen on May 4 if also following the same best practices to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

• “Safer La Plata” allows for additional sectors to reopen with strict precautions beginning on May 8. Those sectors include salons, tattoo parlors, dog groomers, massage and personal training.

“In-store retail and non-essential offices may also open at this time with strict social distancing and other precautions,” a press release from SJBPH states.

Archuleta County Attorney Todd Weaver simplified the differences in a phone call Wednesday, noting he was paraphrasing what Jollon had presented at the meeting the day before.

“The only difference is [SJBPH is] delaying the May 1 and May 4 allowable open dates for different businesses until May 8, at a minimum. They may extend the order if they feel they need to and then they’re requiring businesses to self-certify that they meet the requirements before they open,” he said.

At the meeting, Pagosa Springs Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Mary Jo Coulehan, Pagosa Springs Town Manager Andrea Phillips and president-elect of the Pagosa Springs Area of Realtors Mike Heraty all expressed during virtual public comment they were in favor of the commissioners following the governor’s Safer at Home order and not adopting a policy identical to La Plata County.

“I would like to encourage the county commissioners to follow the governor’s order,” Coulehan said. “While I appreciate the extra time that San Juan Basin Public Health has implemented in La Plata County, I feel confident that our businesses are prepared. I actually wish that some of the businesses that are considered essential would have to go through some of the requirements that are now put in place. I can’t imagine that many of our businesses, even in the downtown area, are going to be experiencing more than one or two people in their store at a time compared to the numbers that are currently in some of our essential businesses.”

“My recommendation to [town] council has been and will be that we follow the governor’s orders and that we stick with what’s already been laid out. [The governor’s] plan in my opinion is still a very careful, phased approach that has protocols and guidance for businesses. … My recommendation will be to follow the — similar to what Archuleta County is doing — and stick with the governor’s orders,” Phillips said, adding, “I do think that businesses are well prepared. I’ve been out and about talking to people and I think they understand the severity of the situation and to go to — I think what Commissioners Wadley mentioned — it’s really up to the businesses as to whether they feel comfortable opening up. So, no one’s forcing them to open up. They can do so if they feel like they’re ready and, frankly, they might feel like they’re not.”

“I think our local businesses have been preparing to gradually reopen and I think their sanitation practices and protocols in line with CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] recommendations and the governor’s order are such that I think we are a different case than maybe some other communities in the state. I would certainly support and encourage that we move forward in gradually getting these businesses back up and open,” Heraty said.

The three county commissioners voted unanimously to adopt the resolution that declares Archuleta County will abide by the Safer at Home order.

The SUN asked Jollon Wednesday why she was advocating for the commissioners to adopt an identical policy as “Safer La Plata” in Archuleta County.

“Because from a public health perspective we’re all sharing the same health care system and while there is more workforce and essential goods and services connectivity between La Plata county and communities that are showing explosive growth, if Archuleta County also starts to see some growth, it’s going to be — all of those cases have the potential to be funneled to the same health care facility. There’s only one health care facility in the region that has ICU, that is designed to have ICU capacity. It’s all of our jobs to protect the limited health care that we have in the middle of the pandemic.”

In separate phone calls Wednesday, each of the three commissioners explained why they voted to follow the governor’s order and not the recommendation of SJBPH.

“We’re not adding another eight more days of pain to the people that are trying to make a living and pay their bills,” said Commissioner Ron Maez. “[SJBPH thinks] the only way they can educate the people here to follow Gov. Polis’ policy is to have eight more days to educate the people — but if you get on the governor’s website, it’s pretty clear.”

“This isn’t going to be a one-size-fits-all. Just because it’s good for their community doesn’t mean it’s good for ours,” said Commission Steve Wadley, adding, “I’m just not gonna blindly go along with some of the things that they thought.”

“The numbers don’t warrant any further restrictions in my opinion,” Commissioner Alvin Schaaf said. “We haven’t had any new cases in close to three weeks, we’ve only had eight [cases] max, so I don’t see any reason to be shut another seven days or eight days. If our numbers were out of control, I’d say, ‘Yeah, we need to do something different,’ but that’s not the case.” 

“We’ve worked really hard over the last month to flatten the curve and we have not seen our health care overwhelmed,” Jollon said. “We also need more time to develop all the public health tools to contain the disease going forward, and the concern is that if we move too quickly we could undo the really good work and all the sacrifices we’ve made over the last month and the ask is to really, ‘Slow down. Take it seriously. Get it right,’ so we don’t accidentally walk back the really hard work we’ve all done together.”

More information on the Safer at Home Executive Order can be found at and in this issue of The SUN.


This story was posted on May 1, 2020.