DENVER – State workers who interact with vulnerable or congregate populations at the Colorado Department of Corrections, the Department of Human Services, and the Department of Public Health and Environment will be required to get vaccinated against COVID-19 by later this fall.
Additionally, Gov. Jared Polis is pushing the State Board of Health to require vaccines for health care workers working with vulnerable populations, the medically vulnerable and in settings where people receive essential care.
Staffers within the Department of Corrections (CDOC) and Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) will have to get their first vaccine dose by Sept. 30 and be fully vaccinated by Oct. 31, the state said. The Department of Human Services (CDHS) will stagger their requirements between Oct. 31 and Nov. 26.
Within DOC facilities, all employees who interact with the public, inmates or parolees, or who enter CDOC facilities, will have to get vaccinated. Additionally, other state employees, contractors, visitors, volunteers and vendors will have to be vaccinated to enter a state prison.
The state said 58.7% of CDOC staff are currently vaccinated. Sixty-four percent of inmates are fully vaccinated and another 8% of inmates have received their first dose. CDOC and CDHS employees have been able to get the vaccine since January.
All CDHS direct care and support staff will also have to get the vaccine, and contractors will have to provide proof of vaccination, the department said. Currently, 77% of CDHS direct care staff is vaccinated, as well as 73% of residents and clients, according to the state.
All CDPHE employees, temporary staff and contractors who work in-person at health facilities, work at vaccine or testing sites, or within the Disease Control and Public Health Response Division will all be required to be fully vaccinated.
“By requiring the vaccine for people who work in congregate settings and with high-risk populations, we can make even more of a difference,” said CDPHE Executive Director Jill Hunsaker Ryan. “We simply cannot allow the delta variant to jeopardize the progress we have achieved in protecting Coloradans.”
“Some people will say that it is a personal choice whether or not they want to get vaccinated, but it is very difficult to socially distance in congregate settings, and inmates do not have a choice regarding where they live and who they come in contact with,” said Dean Williams, the CDOC executive director. “An individual who can get the vaccine and yet is avoiding it, is potentially putting the lives of the people around them at risk and individuals incarcerated at risk.”
The new requirements were announced just as Gov. Polis sent a letter to the State Board of Health asking it to quickly make emergency rules “to require all personnel working in facilities with our vulnerable populations in Colorado to be vaccinated against COVID-19,” as he wrote in the letter.
“These rules should apply to anyone directly involved in health care and support staff who regularly come into contact and share spaces with vulnerable populations including patients seeking medical care in essential medical settings and in congregate senior living facilities,” the letter went on to say. “Anyone subject to the rules should receive a first shot no later than September 30, 2021.”
Several Colorado health care groups, including Children’s Hospital Colorado, SCL Health, Boulder Community Health, UCHealth, Denver Health, National Jewish Health and Banner Health, are already requiring all of their employees to get vaccinated by later this fall. Nineteen Colorado health care organizations also issued a statement last week calling for all health care employees in the state to be vaccinated.
The governor’s letter to the board of health says the spreading delta variant and unvaccinated rate among health care workers is reason to require vaccines.
“I do not ask this of you lightly, nor with any pleasure,” he wrote. “This is a grave situation as we find ourselves starting down the far more contagious delta variant and knowing the estimated 30-40% of unvaccinated staff provides to many opportunities for this virus to enter into these facilities.”
“In order to minimize disruption to the workforce you must take a comprehensive approach to this rulemaking to ensure that if one facility has a vaccine requirement the staff does not leave to go to a facility down the road without a vaccine requirement,” he added.
Polis said senior living facilities where vaccines are already required have told him of their struggle to make the decision and that a statewide comprehensive approach would be more helpful.
“It’s critical that all personnel who are capable of bringing the deadly virus into facilities where our vulnerable populations are in their custody be fully vaccinated in order to save lives,” Polis wrote. “…Now that the vaccine is free and widely available we must take additional steps to ensure we do everything in our power to save lives including this important step to protect those who we are the necessary custodians for.”
Starting Sept. 20, all state employees not vaccinated against COVID-19 will have to be tested twice a week and wear masks indoors, the governor’s office announced at the end of July. The city of Denver is also requiring all of its employees, and employees in certain other high-exposure settings, to get fully vaccinated by Oct. 1.
Polis said in the letter that as of Tuesday, 73.6% of eligible adults had received at least one vaccine dose and 65.3% of Coloradans 12 and up are fully vaccinated.