Colorado hospitals caught between local officials with different pandemic philosophies

In Colorado, neighboring Boulder and Weld counties have demonstrated different attitudes and responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Hospitals in the area have felt the tension. 

A report from Kaiser Health News published in the Denver Post zeroes in on Boulder County, whose officials are vigilant for public health and COVID-19 safety measures, and Weld County, where officials refuse to enforce public health rules and virus positivity rates are twice as high.

Tensions between the two counties are hardly new, but they crescendoed earlier this month when Weld County tallied available hospital beds in Longmont — a city that straddles the border between the two counties — into its capacity figures. 

"They were basically encouraging their citizens to violate the emergency health orders … with this cowboy-esque, you know, 'Yippee-ki-yay, freedom, Constitution forever, damn the consequences,'" Longmont Mayor Brian Bagley told KHN. "Their statement is 'Our hospitals are full, but don't worry, we're just going to use yours.'"

The mayor asked Longmont City Council to consider an ordinance to restrict Weld County residents' access to care at the city's hospitals. Mr. Bagley retracted the proposal the next day, noting it was never going to come to fruition but meant to prove a point.

Weld County commissioners responded, calling Mr. Bagley a "simple mayor" and noting that there was no solution to the pandemic in punishing "working-class families or the individuals who bag your groceries, wait on you in restaurants, deliver food to your home while you watch Netflix and chill."

Longmont's council decided Dec. 15 to mail a letter to Weld County commissioners, encouraging them to enforce state restrictions and to make a public statement about the benefits of wearing masks and practicing physical distancing.

Weld County Commissioner Scott James has expressed doubt about the local government's ability to influence COVID-19 transmission and outcomes, comparing the enforcement of safety measures to tyranny. He also demands the right of his constituents to use the nearest hospital. 

"To look at Weld County like it has walls around it is shortsighted and not the way our healthcare system is designed to work," Mr. James told KHN. He used the analogy of swimming pools lacking "non-peeing" sections. 

"Everybody's gonna get a little on 'em. And that's what's going on right now with COVID."

Longmont is home to UCHealth Longs Peak Hospital, Burlington Medical Center and Longmont United Hospital. 








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