By Colleen Slevin, The Associated Press
At least 92% of Denver’s municipal employees were vaccinated against COVID-19 as of Friday, a day after the city’s vaccine mandate took effect in a bid to slow the spread of the virus during the fall and winter, according to a review of city compliance data.
The employee vaccination rate is higher than Denver’s latest overall vaccination rate of 76% and the statewide rate of 70%.
Employees were required to either prove they were vaccinated or obtain an exemption to the mandate by the end of Thursday or face possible termination.
According to city data, 98.6% of its current 10,869 full-time employees complied with the mandate, either by being vaccinated or receiving an exemption.
So far, 652 workers have been exempted, about 6% of the workforce, while another 14 exemption requests were still pending.
Based on those figures, there were 10,051 workers who complied by providing proof of vaccination and 152 who did not submit proof of vaccination or gain an exemption. Those who did not comply will be notified they are facing disciplinary action and fired if they refuse to be vaccinated.
The mandate applies to all city employees, from police officers and firefighters to office workers. It also requires people who work in schools and in private facilities considered to be at high risk for the spread of COVID-19, including hospitals and nursing homes, to be vaccinated. The mandate will be enforced in those facilities both by active monitoring of compliance and by responding to reports of violations, the city’s health department said.
In city schools, which are not under the control of the municipal government, 87% of staffers have verified they are fully vaccinated and another 3% received exemptions, Superintendent Alex Marrero said in a statement Friday. The 10% who have not complied will continue to work in the school system with stronger masking requirements and weekly testing, also required of those with exemptions, as officials work to try to bring them into compliance, he said.
The mayor’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the vaccination rate among municipal workers, and the Department of Public Health and Environment referred questions about it to the city’s human services office, which compiled the compliance data.
In a press release touting the overall compliance with the mandate, the health department’s executive director, Bob McDonald, said the city was grateful to those who took the “important, life saving step” of getting vaccinated.
“We issued this Public Health Order because we know vaccinations are our way out of the pandemic,” he said.
In the statement, Mayor Michael Hancock said he was grateful to all the employees who came into compliance with the order.
The mandate took effect amid fears that it could worsen a shortage of police officers and sheriff’s deputies. Nationally, law enforcement officers have been among those most hesitant to be vaccinated. The sheriff’s department lagged behind the citywide compliance rate at 95%, but the police department’s compliance rate was 98%.
A group of seven police officers, some of whom had been granted exemptions, unsuccessfully tried to block the mandate from taking effect in court this week.
Under a plan released by the city attorney’s office, city agencies will issue disciplinary letters to those municipal workers who did not comply with the mandate. Workers who lack exemptions and refuse to get vaccinated under any circumstance will be dismissed. Others will be suspended for 10 days without pay and dismissed if they remain unvaccinated.
Those who have been granted vaccination exemptions must wear masks, be tested every five days and socially distance from others.