The city of Denver on Monday announced that it will require all city employees, all workers at hospitals and nursing homes, all people who work in homeless shelters and correctional facilities, and all teachers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of September.
The new order comes amid a wave of vaccination mandates, but it is among the most sweeping in the nation issued by a city government.
Bob McDonald, the executive director of the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment, said the city decided to issue the order due to a surge in coronavirus cases caused by the delta variant. The surge is moving faster than a similar increase at this time last year. McDonald said the city could be in for a nightmare scenario come fall — when respiratory illnesses like COVID-19 normally take off — if the city doesn’t get more people vaccinated now.
At the same time, McDonald said other protective measures — such as requiring mask-wearing or limiting capacity in indoor spaces — are now less effective because of the delta variant’s supercharged transmissibility. People who are unvaccinated or immunocompromised are strongly encouraged to wear masks in public spaces, McDonald said, while those who are vaccinated are encouraged to make a personal decision on masking.
But McDonald said a mask mandate can’t accomplish enough at this time to be worth it.
“We’re not going to mask our way out of this; we’re not going to test our way out of this,” McDonald said at a Monday news conference. “We need to get people vaccinated. That’s the only way we’re going to pull out of this.”
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said the order applies to all of the city’s roughly 10,000 employees, including police officers, sheriff’s deputies and firefighters. But it also applies to all teachers — whether public or private — at schools within the city. And it applies to people who work at hospitals and nursing homes, as well as other outbreak-prone settings like correctional facilities and shelters for people experiencing homelessness.
Denver Health, the city’s main public hospital, announced last week that it would require vaccination for workers. But other hospitals in the city had not yet announced a decision on vaccination. On Monday, Kaiser Permanente announced it would require vaccination for all of its physicians and employees across the country, including in Colorado.
Workers covered under the city of Denver’s order will need to have received their final dose of vaccine by Sept. 15 in order to be fully immunized by the end of that month.
Hancock said there will be narrow exemptions for medical or religious reasons. He also said the city would work with employees who are reluctant to receive the vaccine, providing them with information to address their concerns.
But he said the city won’t be afraid to take action against city employees who refuse to get vaccinated.
“There might be some folks who may lose their jobs behind this,” Hancock said. “We recognize that.”