DENVER — President Joe Biden announced Thursday that private businesses with 100 or more employees will be required to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations or weekly testing.
Biden also announced vaccine requirements for federal employees and contractors and 17 million health care workers at facilities that accept Medicare and Medicaid payments.
According to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the mandate will impact about 3,100 employers with 100 or more employees, and approximately 793,000 employees at those businesses. The CDLE said around 54,700 Coloradans are employed or contracted by the federal government, according to 2020 data.
The Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, J. J. Ament, which represents 3,000 businesses, said it supports local control and would “review” Biden’s order.
“We understand that our elected and public health officials have had to make difficult decisions throughout this pandemic to try and keep more people safe. We have long supported the ability of employers to make such decisions for their own organizations,” the chamber said in a statement. “We continue to support that local approach today. Employers throughout Colorado are responding in a variety of ways that are best suited for their own type of business and the safety of their employees and customers. We will review the President’s new order when released and will work to understand its policy implications for Colorado businesses.”
One of the large Colorado employers who will be impacted by the new federal regulations is Lockheed Martin, which employs approximately 11,400 employees.
“Lockheed Martin plays an essential role as part of the national security industrial base, supporting the critical missions of our customers in the United States and abroad. As we have done throughout the pandemic, we continue to follow federal, state and local mandates, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to minimize the spread of COVID-19,” the company said in a statement. “We also use other best practices to mitigate risks and protect the health and well-being of our employees and partners, while ensuring we meet our commitments to national security.”
Chris Fuselier, the owner of Blake Street Tavern in Denver, says he is prepared for a vaccine mandate. In fact, he has mandated his employees get a vaccine since March.
"I think it's great," he said. "Especially in the restaurant industry, we work hand-in-hand, side-by-side with one another. We're close to guests."
He says the most important priority is to avoid more shutdowns because of a spike in the virus.
"We don't want to go backwards," Fuselier said. "A lot of restaurants are hanging on by a thread still, and if we go backwards to partial restrictions, a lot of us aren't going to make it."
The Colorado Restaurant Association said it's working to gather more details about what the president's plan means for restaurants who employ more than 100 people.
“Does the 100-employee requirement span all locations of a business or does it apply to each individual location? It’s also important to understand when this rule will go into effect and whether restaurants will have enough time to collect vaccination information from their employees and ensure that their workforce is either vaccinated or seeking testing on a weekly basis. They’ll also need to provide their teams with information about where to obtain a vaccine or the weekly tests. Regarding the expansion of the EIDL loan program, we appreciate that there is more financial support coming for our small business community. Approximately 60% of Colorado restaurants applied for but did not receive Restaurant Revitalization Fund grants, so there is clearly a need for more assistance.”
A spokesperson for the governor’s office said Gov. Jared Polis is still reviewing what the new federal mandates mean for Coloradans.
“We are proud that 76% of Colorado adults have received at least one dose of the safe and effective vaccine and of the progress we’ve made against the virus,” the spokesperson, Conor Cahill, said in a statement. “Our top priorities are to keep people safe, keep students in the classroom, avoid overwhelming our hospital system and protect our economic progress. Many Colorado businesses have already stepped up to help our economy build back better by ensuring their team members are protecting themselves and their families by getting the safe and effective vaccine. We are in this together and Colorado appreciates the consistent efforts of our federal partners and Congress to help states like ours meet unique challenges and provide essential resources to arm ourselves in the fight against COVID.”
Congressman Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, called Biden’s federal vaccine mandates “wrong and ineffective.”
“We must have a limited federal government that doesn’t mandate personal health care choices for everyday Americans. I made the personal choice to get vaccinated, and I think these vaccines are effective at combatting (sic) the COVID-19 pandemic. I also think that people’s personal choices must be respected.”
In an interview with Denver7, Dr. Bechara Choucair, the White House vaccinations coordinator, said it’s been frustrating that vaccination numbers haven’t been moving in the direction the federal government would like.
“There’s been so much progress, so much work as a country in getting so many people vaccinated. Nearly 75% of people who are eligible to be vaccinated have received at least one dose of the vaccine. The fact remains there’s still around 80 million people in this country who have been eligible to be vaccinated and they’re still unvaccinated,” Choucair said. “We have to do everything we can to make sure we’re getting more people vaccinated, more people protected, our communities protected, and vaccine requirements is one tool in our tool box that builds on a lot of the great work that this country has done.”
Part of the president’s plan includes increased testing. To help improve access to rapid tests for all consumers, top retailers that sell at-home rapid COVID-19 tests, like Walmart, Amazon and Kroger, will be offering the tests to be purchased at-cost for the next three months. Medicaid also must cover at-home tests for free for beneficiaries.
The Biden administration previously announced a vaccine requirement for nursing home staff as a condition for those facilities to continue receiving federal Medicare and Medicaid funding. The State Board of Health also voted on Aug. 30 to require vaccines for workers at hospitals, nursing homes and other health care facilities in Colorado.
Staffers within the Department of Corrections, Department of Public Health and Environment and Department of Human Services are also required to get vaccinated.
The City and County of Denver’s vaccine mandate, announced in early August, requires all city employees, school staff and others in congregate care settings to be fully vaccinated by the end of September.