DENVER — As COVID-19 cases continue to trend downward and vaccinations begin in Denver, city officials are urging residents to remain diligent and continue to follow public health orders.
"It's a testament to Denver residents for keeping up with the precautions, but the bad news is we still are at a level where those precautions must be sustained," Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said during a virtual press conference Thursday morning. "With the vaccine not being available to the general public until the summer, folks need to keep up with the precautions that have been outlined. That will keep us safe."
That includes three main points: Wearing a mask, avoiding large gatherings, and practicing good hygiene.
Latest #COVID19Colorado data.— Denver7 News (@DenverChannel) December 16, 2020
The latest hospital data showed 1,541 beds in use by confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients, thirteen less than Tuesday. Colorado's latest three-day positivity rate was 8.39%. The state's goal is to remain below 5%. pic.twitter.com/zjvSglDWsG
Department of Public Health & Environment Executive Director Bob McDonald said if we ease up, it will be very easy for the virus to put the city back at a more dangerous level. But he said he hopes Denver can get out of Level Red on the state's COVID-19 dial in the next three to four weeks.
"But remember, we have a number of holidays (in the coming weeks), which historically, people like to congregate and party and we know that when there's partying, those public health restrictions — people tend to be a little lax with them," he said. "So, hopefully everybody follows our guidance."
Hancock confirmed that he will not leave the state or gather in a large group for the upcoming holidays. He faced criticism after pleading with Denverites to remain home for Thanksgiving before flying to Mississippi to celebrate the holiday with family.
Currently, the state is in Phase 1A of vaccine distributions, which includes people working directly with COVID-19 patients, and residents and staff at long-term care facilities. The date of the start of the next phase is dependent on available supply, Hancock said.
Hancock said there are many concerns, as well as rumors, about the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine. He stressed that the vaccine is effective and safe, and just like any other vaccine, had undergone rigorous testing and review by companies, advisers and the FDA.
McDonald said some misunderstand that the science behind the COVID-19 vaccine has been in place for years and is not an entirely new research. He explained that scientists didn't start from scratch when creating this vaccine — a point he has stressed in previous press conferences.
Tens of thousands of people from diverse backgrounds received the vaccine in the trials and it proved to be very effective, he said. There were minor side effects that people typically experienced after the second dose, like a headache and fatigue.
Dr. Connie Price, chief medical officer for Denver Health, explained that the vaccine provokes a strong immune response, which causes people to sometimes feel unwell afterward. However, this can be treated with ibuprofen or Tylenol.
"We get out of this pandemic by reaching herd immunity," McDonald said. "We reach herd immunity through people who have already experienced the virus, but even more so, by a large percentage of the population realizing that this vaccine is safe and that they accept it."
The Pfizer vaccine arrived at Denver Health on Wednesday at 7:20 a.m. and Phase 1A vaccinations begin there Thursay, Price said. She said like the flu shot, the COVID-19 vaccine is administered into the big muscle of the shoulder. The two doses are given about three to four weeks apart, depending on the manufacturers' requirements.
She said everybody who is receiving the vaccine in this phase will be monitored for 15 to 20 minutes to ensure they don't have a severe reaction to it.
Price said at Denver Health, they took a survey of their employees and learned that 70% indicated they would be "a hard yes" on accepting the vaccine. That's high compared to national standards, she said. Twenty percent of employees said they are still thinking about it and 10% said they'd decline for various reasons. Employees would not be penalized for declining the vaccine, she said. The reason is because the Pfizer vaccine was approved under emergency use authorization by the FDA. The Moderna vaccine is undergoing this process Thursday. Price said she'd question the ethics of mandating something that hasn't gone through the full approval or been out for a standardized amount of time, even though she said she has full confidence in its safety.
"From Denver Health's perspective, this is a historic day," she said. "This vaccine is a light at the end of the tunnel, a key tool toward ending this pandemic and saving lives, reopening Denver and getting our kids back to school. ... This is the final piece we really need to get out of this."
During the press conference, Hancock said Denver has every intention of applying for the state's Five Star program, which gives restaurants the chance to operate with less COVID-19-related restrictions if they meet all health and safety requirements. He said they could potentially see up to 7,000 applicants for the program in Denver alone.