Colorado health care workers at some 3,800 facilities across the state must be vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of October as a condition of employment under a temporary emergency rule approved by the state board of health on Monday evening.
The mandate was approved in a 6–1 vote in an emergency session, and comes just weeks after Gov. Jared Polis sent a letter to the board requesting that it immediately consider rulemaking mandating the COVID-19 vaccination for all individuals “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 governor, a Democrat, cited a surge in cases of the highly infectious Delta variant of COVID-19, the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, to justify a vaccine mandate.
“The pandemic we face today is largely a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” wrote Polis on Aug. 17. “The State can meet this challenge by getting more people vaccinated and protecting those most at risk.”
The vaccine mandate applies to staff and contract workers who work with patients or clients at licensed facilities regulated by the board, including assisted living homes, nursing homes, hospitals, hospices, and community clinics. It does not apply to individual practitioners, doctor’s offices, or urgent care centers. The facilities will no longer be allowed to hire unvaccinated workers after Oct. 31.
According to The Denver Post, during a two-hour virtual hearing attended by at least 1,000 people, about twice as many people spoke against the mandate as spoke in favor. Some said the move could lead to staff shortages if workers choose to quit rather than get vaccinated against COVID-19.
“If my job can compel me to take a drug under duress or lose my job, what else can I be forced to do?” asked Lorissa ArgoRay, a registered nurse, the Post reported. “On behalf of all health care workers, we deserve better.”
Individuals are able to apply for medical or religious exemptions from their employers.
Approximately 30 percent of the health care workforce in the affected facilities and agencies are unvaccinated, according to the state’s Department of Public Health and Environment.
“With the rise in the delta variant, ensuring that all workers in licensed healthcare facilities are vaccinated is one of the most effective means the state can take to protect the public health, safety, and welfare of all Coloradans and end this ongoing pandemic,” the department said in a news release.
According to The Denver Channel, the board is set to reconvene next month to vote on permanent rules.