DENVER — A new public health order in Denver will require all city employees, school staff, and others in congregate care settings to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of September, Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock announced Monday morning.
He said this "far-reaching" order, which he announced at a press conference on Monday morning, came with "considerable deliberation" and consultation with public health experts.
He said the employees must be vaccinated by Sept. 30. It applies to the City and County's municipal workforce, which includes more than 10,000 employees, plus workers in congregate care work, such as nursing homes, shelters for people experiencing homelessness, correctional facilities, schools (both public and private) and hospitals. It also applies to first responders.
Hancock said the order also includes certain city volunteers and contractors.
The city will take the next two months to talk with employees to address their concerns.
"This order is not intended to punish or denigrate any employee who has been reluctant to take the vaccine," he said. "I know many of us have family members, friends, neighbors and colleagues who have concern about the vaccines despite assurances from top medical professionals across the country and around the world that it is the safest and most effective way to protect against this deadly virus."
Hancock said much of the COVID-19 response has been politicized and misinformation ran rampant on social media.
"We will work to address these concerns and we will also protect those with religious and medical reasons that support narrow exemptions from this order," he said.
He repeated what he said in last week's State of the City — that the pandemic's hold on the city, state and world is not gone.
In the past six months, 96% of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Colorado were not fully vaccinated and 90% of the new cases were caused by the delta variant, he said.
Hancock said even the 70% vaccination rate isn't enough to protect residents and businesses or economy from another blow this fall and winter due to the the highly contagious variant, which appears to be as transmissible as chickenpox, according to the CDC.
The answer to the growing number of cases is more people getting the full vaccination, he said, calling it the "silver bullet."
"We are resilient but we must protect the people and the progress we have made together. No one wants to relive the horrors of last year," Hancock said. "No one wants to see another stay-at-home order to stop a crisis that threatens to overwhelm our hospitals."
Executive Director of the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment Bob McDonald explained the case rate in Denver was 15.4 per 100,000 people over the last few weeks.
That has now tripled, he said.
That, plus the concerns of vaccinations stalling, mean that Denver's vaccination rate, even though it's above 75.7% of people 12 and older, is not going to be enough. He said the current spike is not going to bode well as we head into the fall.
"We have to have more people vaccinated before the fall hits," he said.
McDonald said this new public health order comes after previous mask mandates, testing regiments, stay-at-home order, capacity limits and more, and yet the virus has mutated to the point where those measures are becoming less and less effective.
"We are not going to mask our way out of this," McDonald said. "We are not going to test our way out of this. We need to get people vaccinated — that is the only way we are all going to pull out of this."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday it was updating its mask recommendation, saying that its experts believe people wearing a mask can prevent further spread of the delta variant. In addition, the CDC said vaccinated people should take a COVID-19 test three to five days after being exposed to a person who may have contracted the virus.
On Friday, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis announced that Colorado will require all state employees not vaccinated against COVID-19 to be tested twice a week, for free, and wear masks indoors beginning Sept. 20.
In the statement, he said: “I have heard from state employees who are terrified that their unvaccinated co-workers will give them COVID-19 and want vaccination mandated, and from other state workers who have hesitation towards the vaccine. I think this middle road is the right one to take, respecting the right of state workers to decide while also talking effective steps to address the legitimate safety concern of fellow state workers.”
On the federal level, President Joe Biden announced that federal workers and some contractors will need to wear masks at work if they can’t prove they are fully vaccinated.