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Emails detail struggle between Fremont County Health Officials and RE-1 Superintendent over COVID-19 mitigation

FREMONT COUNTY, Colo. (KRDO) -- In emails obtained by KRDO, Fremont County Commissioner Dwayne McFall and Public Health Director Kayla Marler said the RE-1 School District Superintendent, George Welsh, is not following their COVID-19 mitigation strategies recommendations.

Last Tuesday, the Fremont County Board of Health (comprised of the three commissioners), the Health Director, and the RE-1 School District reached a verbal agreement to implement a mask order in Cañon City schools.

"We kind of came to an agreement that we may put in some kind of mask mandate in the schools because of the rising numbers of COVID," McFall said.

Last Friday, the Board of Health chose not to sign the mask order, citing that Tuesday's meeting was "a last resort," according to Commissioner McFall.

In the email below, Commissioner Dwayne McFall is responding to a parental complaint from the week the verbal agreement was reached. He outlines that the RE-1 School District has a "lack of mitigation," and that Welsh "refuses to implement any further mitigation processes without being told what to do."

Email via CORA Request

"They are not following those recommendations, so without doing a requirement there is nothing else we can do so hopefully they can figure out that the mitigation strategies they are using aren't working properly," McFall said.

In another email obtained by KRDO, Marler tells Welsh, "I strongly encourage that kids that have been in contact with a confirmed positive follow the CORRECT [sic] quarantine guidelines outlined by the CDC and CDPHE."

Email via CORA Request

In an additional email, Marler claims the RE-1 School District had three instances of failing to meet her recommendations. The first was "allowing students to be in school as long as they are masked, after being in close contact with a confirmed positive;" the second was "students in band being exposed to a confirmed positive and be allowed to be in school because those students were not in the same general classroom;" and the third was a "teacher was at school, teaching while sick and came back positive -- parents were not notified that their child/children were exposed."

Email via CORA Request

McFall told KRDO that RE-1 School District is following a Mesa County mitigation strategy. It allows students who were around someone who tested positive for COVID to remain in school as long as they wear a mask and social distance. The supposed goal is to limit the number of quarantines in RE-1 schools.

There have been 1,380 positive COVID-19 cases in Mesa County over the last two weeks. School-aged children 12-18 make up 19% of those cases, and 19 to 29-year-olds are 26% of the positive cases there.

George Welsh confirmed the usage of this mitigation strategy. He said they quarantines too many students in the early part of the year. He outlined a three foot bubble rule, where any students coming within three feet of a positive individual must quarantine.

"Anyone outside that bubble, prior to that we were quarantining and what we have done instead is we are allowing those families to choose to wear a mask in lieu of quarantine for the next seven days," Welsh said.

Welsh told KRDO the RE-1 School District is committed to following the Health Department and Board of Healths requirements, but not necessarily recommendations.

"If they don't like our mitigation plan, they have the power at their next meeting or to call a special meeting and place us under an order to follow specific mitigation strategies to use when we have close contacts. They have not done that," Welsh said. 

In September, before RE-1 implemented their three foot bubble rule, Welsh says they were quarantining as many as 350 students out of 3,600 students district-wide.

"In the last two days, we have only had 28 students in the district under quarantine," Welsh said. "When we were given the power to make our own decisions we've seen a steady drop in at least the quarantines we've had to administer."

Welsh told KRDO he believes complaints were sent to the Fremont County Board of Health last week that were critical of the verbal mask agreement. With Health Officials recommending masking in RE-1 schools, it may be not a popular recommendation.

"Masking is recommendation, but they don't require or enforce that and we found out that is a hard thing to do politically here in Fremont County," Welsh said.

When asked why a "requirement" would be necessary to follow CDC and CDPHE guidance, Welsh said they know how to protect their kids best.

"We are not going to ask them how to teach our kids, they should not be asking us to make decisions about public health. There role is public health and we need them to give us directives if we are going to do it," Welsh said.

McFall said Superintendent Welsh has attended their Board of Health meetings and has met with him personally, but he feels the recommendations by Health Officials are falling on deaf ears.

"I don't see the implication of the recommendations so that makes it tough. I can talk to him all day long, but if he doesn't take our recommendation, then what is the point?"

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Sean Rice

Sean is a reporter based out of Pueblo for KRDO. Learn more about him here.

Comments

3 Comments

  1. Those who can do, those who can’t teach. Leave it to the experts. You can’t even educate our kids properly, what makes you think you know anything about public health?

    1. Hi Alexi,
      Obviously, you are speaking from your own personal experience. Let’s do this. Open up random YouTube videos. The first one that begins with a “Grammarly” popup ad, click on “More information.” Subscribe to it, and quickly forward to the punctuation tutorials regarding comma usage. Take notes, then rewrite your comment above using what you learned.
      You’re welcome,
      CW

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