Gov. Jared Polis on Tuesday formally asked the state Board of Health to implement emergency rules requiring the COVID-19 vaccine for all workers who serve vulnerable populations and staff facilities where people receive essential medical care.
Under the governor’s proposal, those people would need to receive their first shot by Sept. 30.
“These are settings in which we have a responsibility to keep people safe who have little choice about their presence there,” Polis, a Democrat, wrote in a letter to the Board of Health. “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.”
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The Board of Health was already scheduled to meet at 10 a.m. Wednesday for a rulemaking hearing.
“We imagine they would discuss it (Wednesday) and we hope they act expediently as the Governor has requested in his letter,” Polis spokesperson Conor Cahill said in an email.
Polis noted in the letter that 30% to 40% of staff at Colorado facilities that serve vulnerable populations and provide essential medical care were estimated to be unvaccinated. As the delta variant of COVID-19 spread in the state over the past several weeks, cases and hospitalizations have begun climbing again.
Statewide, 72.5% of people 12 and older had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and 66% were fully immunized as of Aug. 16, according to data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Eight Colorado counties were reporting that 80% or more of eligible people had received at least one dose.
Residents in some rural Colorado counties are far less likely to be protected. In Washington County on the Eastern Plains, just 32.2% of eligible people had received at least one dose, and the rate was 32.4% in nearby Cheyenne County.
“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,” Polis wrote in the letter.
Health care leaders quoted in a statement from Polis’ office agreed with the governor’s sentiment.
“Already, many healthcare professional organizations have called for healthcare workers to be vaccinated to protect the health and well-being of patients,” Bob Murphy, state director for AARP Colorado, was quoted in the statement as saying. “These decisions are being made to protect the lives of patients, providers and their families and to stop the spread of the disease.”
Several major Colorado hospitals and hospital systems have already informed staff members that they will require COVID-19 vaccination. So far, those include UCHealth, Banner Health, Denver Health, Children’s Hospital Colorado, SCL Health, Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center, National Jewish Health, Boulder Community Hospital and Kaiser Permanente, according to the governor’s letter.
“UCHealth’s priority and responsibility is to provide the safest possible environment for our patients and everyone who works in our facilities, and this is why we are proud to be joining the hundreds of other hospitals across the nation in requiring all staff members and providers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or to receive an exemption for valid medical or religious reasons,” Dr. Michelle Barron, senior medical director of infection prevention for UCHealth, was quoted as saying in the statement from Polis’ office.
Some senior living facilities, such as Genesis and Vivage, also instituted a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for staff, Polis wrote in the letter.
On Tuesday, the Colorado Department of Corrections announced its own vaccine requirement for staff within correctional facilities.
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