DENVER – Nearly 99% of Denver city employees were either fully vaccinated or received an exemption as of noon Friday as the COVID-19 vaccine mandate deadline passed, according to the city.
City data shows 98.7% of full-time city employees had been fully vaccinated by 5 p.m. Friday – a total of 10,707 people. The city said 652 people had received exemptions out of 778 that were submitted. Seventy-one requests for exemptions were denied, and 14 are still under review.
“We’re grateful to the over 98% of city employees who came into compliance with the public health order,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said in a statement. “Our city employees have always put service to their community first, and they have demonstrated that once again by getting vaccinated.”
Thursday was the deadline for city employees to submit their proof of vaccination or exemptions. Employees who have not received an exemption will now be subject to a series of potential punishments, though they will still have some time to get vaccinated.
The city said this week it would start sending contemplation of discipline letters to those who are not in compliance Friday. First offenses will result in a presumptive 10-day unpaid suspension, and second offenses will end in a presumptive firing, the city attorney’s office said.
Employees who received exemptions will have to wear a mask, stay physically distanced from others and get a PCR test every five days.
"Being at about 99% is about as good as we could possibly have hoped," said City Attorney Kristin Bronson in an interview Friday. "We do not want to be punitive. Our goal is compliance. Our goal is getting vaccines in arms and saving lives."
The city said Friday the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment would investigate claims of violations of the public health order and has the ability to issue fines or penalties for organizations that are not in compliance. People can report businesses that are out of compliance by clicking here.
Denver’s vaccine requirement was announced in early August as a public health order that requires all city employees, school staff, and others in congregate care settings to be fully vaccinated by Sept. 30.
According to city data, 98.3% of 1,760 Denver Police Department workers are fully vaccinated. The Denver Sheriff Department is 95.3% vaccinated – among the lowest percentages in city departments. The 87.5% of the small Board of Adjustment for Zoning Appeals Agency that is fully vaccinated represents the lowest vaccination rate among city departments and agencies. Several of the departments and agencies are 100% vaccinated, according to the city.
Denver Public Schools, to which the requirement also applies, said Friday that 87% of its employees are fully vaccinated and 3% received an exemption, bringing the total compliance to 90%. If employees do not follow the order, letters of reprimand will be sent to them on Oct. 4, and unvaccinated employees will have to comply with weekly testing, according to the district.
"We remain fully committed to helping all of our employees come into full compliance with the health order," DPS Superintendent Dr. Alex Marrero said in a statement. "We will continue to follow up with those staff members to offer support, as well as to give them a timeline to come into full compliance before they would be in jeopardy of losing their position due to failure to meet the requirements of the public-health order."
DDPHE Executive Director Bob McDonald said he felt the numbers were "fantastic" and "testimony to the fact that it was the right thing to do."
"I think, initially, there were concerns about none of the vaccines being fully approved by the FDA. Of course, that no longer became an issue as Pfizer was fully approved. There were questions about how many vaccines actually work, and then certainly, there were questions posed about one's rights and is this a legal mandate," he said. "Where we landed today, I think, demonstrates that we've addressed very successfully those concerns and questions."
McDonald said he believes some of the remaining 1.3% who have not gotten vaccinated will do so coming up and that he is confident the city will get to 100%.
"The decision is really theirs. It's a condition of employment. It's a legal mandate. It's the right thing to do to get out of the pandemic," he said.