Summit County officials discuss harsh criticism, testing issues at Board of Health meeting
KEYSTONE — Before the novel coronavirus pandemic hit, public health directors were largely spared the scrutiny that often comes with being a government official.
Now that they are leading the way in coronavirus response, health officials have been thrown into the public eye and forced to deal with more comments, concerns and insults than ever before. Summit County’s Public Health Director Amy Wineland is no exception.
At a joint Board of Health and Summit Board of County Commissioners meeting Tuesday, July 21, Assistant County Manager Sarah Vaine brought up a Colorado Sun article about the issues public health officials are facing amid the pandemic.
“I just want to mention it because I think most of us have gotten used to the barrage of insults that come our way,” Vaine said. “But I see a lot of the ones that go particularly to Amy personally and to her staff.”
Vaine said that while she’s not sure the insults sent to Wineland and the public health staff are as aggressive as the ones featured in the Colorado Sun article, they are concerning.
“I think those communities that have been real firm with the public health order and stuck to their guns … it does open, particularly (Wineland) and her team, up as a target,” Vaine said. “She’s put up (with) a lot of terrible emails and foul language and personal insults.”
Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence said the power given to county governments during the pandemic is new, opening up the county to more criticism.
“I just want to reiterate that here, the commissioners of Summit County, we’re going to follow the science and data in what (Wineland is) telling us,” Lawrence said. “This should not be politicized.”
Vaine, along with the rest of the board, shared support for Wineland and the rest of the county’s public health staff.
“I don’t know that people realize how much she’s working and how much her team is working,” Vaine said. “Then to have to receive these very personal, icky emails all the time, is just a real shame. As partisan and acrimonious as everything has become, a lot of the targets for that is our public health team.”
Wineland thanked Vaine and the rest of the board for their support.
“The team is incredible and dedicated and passionate about protecting the health of our community,” Wineland said.
At the meeting, the board also discussed a delay in test results, which are averaging five to seven days.
Wineland said public health officials have noticed an increase in visitors getting tested in the county. A lot of times, the visitors want to get tested at the beginning of their vacation to ensure they don’t have the virus when they get here, she said.
“We just want to make sure we’re utilizing our tests for those who need it and not overwhelming the system when it’s not necessary,” she said.
The public health team is now working with Centura Health to revamp the eligibility for testing in the county, Wineland said. While she didn’t go into specifics on what the new requirements would be, she said the county still would test asymptomatic residents who need a negative result to travel because of restrictions in other states.
“We don’t want folks coming in just to be tested,” she said. “It gives you a false sense of security for the most part that you’re safe. So we’re trying to re-clarify and classify who is able to be tested.”
Wineland said more information about potential changes in testing eligibility would be available at Thursday’s meeting, July 23.
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