Gov. Jared Polis is not considering a coronavirus vaccine mandate for Colorado’s roughly 30,000 state employees after California’s governor and New York City’s mayor announced Monday that they will pursue that route to combat rising cases of the delta variant.
“The state is working very hard to educate Coloradans on how safe and effective the vaccine is. We have worked to ensure the vaccine is free, convenient and accessible to all. We also just announced a new round of incentives that we hope will increase the number of Coloradans getting the vaccine,” Conor Cahill, a spokesman for Polis, said in a written statement. “These efforts remain the focus of the state’s COVID response. “
Cases are rising across the U.S. and in Colorado as the delta variant, which is far more contagious than other strains of the disease, spreads. The variant was first detected in India.
Health officials have blamed unvaccinated people for the trend, urging them to get inoculated as soon as possible. More than 70% of Colorado adults have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, but some counties are lagging well behind that percentage.
“Having more than 70% of Colorado adults vaccinated is an important milestone, but it’s not enough,” Polis said recently on social media.
The governor thinks as many as 85% of Coloradans are open to getting the vaccine, while 15% will never agree to get inoculated. His administration is now working person-by-person to increase the state’s vaccination rate in recognition that the window for mass vaccination has closed.
The COVID-19 vaccines, when someone is fully inoculated, are very effective against the delta variant, especially when it comes to preventing hospitalizations and death. About 95% of Colorado’s coronavirus hospitalizations from January through June were among unvaccinated people.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom, in addition to requiring public employees to be vaccinated or regularly tested, also ordered health care workers to get vaccinated as part of his new actions to combat the disease.
“An individual’s choice not to get vaccinated is now impacting the rest of us in a profound and devastating and deadly way,” Newsom said.
Polis does not appear to be interested in a state vaccination mandate for health care workers either, though he’s open to health care workers employers requiring inoculation as a condition of employment.
“Our health care professionals have long had flu vaccine policies in place to protect their employees and vulnerable patients so it’s no surprise that many are considering establishing similar policies,” Cahill said. “We expect as the FDA gives full authorization that many employers will consider similar policies to keep their workplaces safe and end this pandemic.”
The coronavirus vaccines available in the U.S. only currently have emergency-use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, which has served as reasoning for some employers not to require inoculation.
Colorado’s seven-day average of new daily cases was 570 as of Sunday, up from a low of 300 on June 21. The case rates are still well below the state’s seven-day average daily case peak of about 5,400 in November. Still, the increasing numbers are raising anxieties as a new school year approaches and the summer winds down.
Polis said last week that he’s not planning on enacting any new coronavirus restrictions, noting that Colorado’s hospital capacity remains in good shape. “I think I’ve made it clear from the start: The state’s nexus is making sure our hospital system is not overwhelmed,” he said.
(as of Tuesday morning, about 300 people in Colorado were hospitalized because of COVID-19. The peak was 1,847 in December.)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, reversed course Tuesday on some masking guidelines, recommending that even vaccinated people return to wearing masks indoors in parts of the U.S. where the coronavirus is surging and risk of catching the disease if “high” or “substantial.”
Citing new information about the ability of the delta variant to spread among vaccinated people, the CDC also recommended indoor masks for all teachers, staff, students and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status.
The new guidance follows recent decisions in Los Angeles and St. Louis to revert to indoor mask mandates amid a spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations that have been especially bad in the South. The country is averaging more than 57,000 cases a day and 24,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations.
Most new infections in the U.S. continue to be among unvaccinated people. But “breakthrough” infections, which generally cause milder illness, can occur in vaccinated people. When earlier strains of the virus predominated, infected vaccinated people were found to have low levels of virus and were deemed unlikely to spread the virus much, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said.
But with the delta variant, the level of virus in infected vaccinated people is “indistinguishable” from the level of virus in the noses and throats of unvaccinated people, Walensky said.
The data emerged over the last couple of days from 100 samples. It is unpublished, and the CDC has not released it. But “it is concerning enough that we feel like we have to act,” Walensky said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.