County Leaders to Governors: Let Us Make Our Own Calls on Reopening

By: - May 5, 2020 12:00 am

From left, Sutter County Supervisor Dan Flores, Sutter County Administrator Steven Smith and Sutter County Supervisor Mike Ziegenmeyer visit the Lambert House Cafe in Yuba City, California. The county asked Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, for local authority to reopen, then issued a local order defying statewide restrictions and encouraging businesses to open their doors. Adam Beam/The Associated Press

Read Stateline coverage of the latest state action on coronavirus.

In Colorado’s rural Eagle County, local commissioners are setting their own rules for reopening the area economy. They’re doing so with the backing of Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat who granted the county Colorado’s first exemption to statewide stay-at-home restrictions.

Home to popular ski resorts, Eagle County saw one of the state’s first COVID-19 outbreaks, with more than 400 cases reported in March. The county, and its nonprofit health care system Vail Health, responded aggressively. By the start of April, case counts had slowed to single digit numbers each day, testing was widespread and fast, and local health care facilities had plenty of available capacity.

County Commissioner Matt Scherr credited Vail Health with preparing and establishing supply chains back in January, giving the county a leg up. The testing success in particular will allow the county to gradually loosen restrictions while closely watching the outcomes of those rollbacks.

“As long as we can maintain that volume of testing and rapid test results, it does give us that data which is almost real-time,” Scherr said. “It allows us to test our public health orders.”

Counties across the country want the same control, even as scientists project cases and daily deaths to rise in the coming weeks. From California to Washington to North Carolina to Michigan, local officials are asking their state governments for the authority to loosen restrictions.

Many counties seeking more local flexibility are smaller or rural and so far have been relatively unscathed by the virus. Leaders say their paralyzed economies are causing greater harm than the pandemic itself.

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Alex Brown
Alex Brown

Based in Seattle, Alex Brown covers environmental issues for Stateline. Prior to joining Stateline, Brown wrote for The Chronicle in Lewis County, Washington state.