Local health directors to Gov. Polis: Mandate vaccinations for places like bars, restaurants

The request comes as cases are straining the state’s hospitals.

Nhung Mai draws out a COVID-19 vaccine at a city-run clinic inside the Barnum Recreation Center. March 10, 2021.

Nhung Mai draws out a COVID-19 vaccine at a city-run clinic inside the Barnum Recreation Center. March 10, 2021.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photo

On Sunday, the state health department issued a public health order for six metro counties requiring proof of vaccination for unseated indoor events with 500 or more people.

But local health directors representing those six counties are calling on Gov. Jared Polis to go a step further.

The health officials want Polis to issue a statewide public health order requiring proof of vaccination from both patrons and staff for high-risk indoor places including bars and restaurants to curb the surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations, according to a letter obtained by Denverite dated Nov. 12.

The letter is from the Metro Denver Partnership for Health, which is made up of six metro area public health agencies, including Denver’s.

The order would apply for settings including gyms, sporting events, and other large-group indoor settings. Some of those places aren’t covered by the new public health order.

The letter sent last week is addressed to Polis and the leader of the state health department. It also requests that the state mandate face coverings indoors for Coloradans ages two and older who do not have proof of vaccination.

“These requirements must be statewide, given the statewide nature of Colorado’s shared hospital ecosystem,” the letter reads, before ending, “We urgently request your leadership in responding to this crisis.”

The state expects to exceed hospital capacity next month, and it currently has some of the highest transmission rates in the country.

Dr. Bill Burman, executive director at Denver Health’s public health agency and one of the health officials who signed the letter, said the partnership’s two primary goals were to keep hospitals from becoming overwhelmed and ensure in-person learning for K-12 students.

The current surge is threatening both goals, he said.

“That’s particularly worrisome at any time, but at a time when we have so much demand for medical care of all kinds of types, not just for COVID, that’s particularly concerning,” Burman said.

Burman said Monday the partnership had yet to receive a response from the governor. In a statement to Denverite, Polis’ press secretary Conor Cahill said the state has worked to make large indoor events safer and has support from officials in Adams, Jefferson, Arapahoe, Broomfield, and Boulder counties. He did not say whether the governor supported the ideas put forth in the letter.

“The Governor is glad to see more local governments and venues partnering with the state to protect people from the deadly virus as we all work together to get more people and children the safe and effective vaccine and the booster so we can and end the pandemic and get back to the Colorado we love,” Cahill.

Burman noted that the surge is taking place as flu season begins.

Data from other states show indoor masking helps reduce transmission, Burman said, and can help reduce hospitalizations. He said that requiring vaccine passports can incentive more people to get a shot. He applauded the new public health order announced on Sunday as an initial step, but said it’s not enough to turn around the current surge.

“The COVID-19 virus doesn’t respect county lines and our hospital system is a statewide system, with patients being transferred around the region and the state,” a statement from Denver’s public health department read. “As such, we need to take a broader, coordinated approach to reduce this current surge. The current case rates across Colorado call for comprehensive mandates to move beyond this pandemic, not measures limited to one community.”

The Metro Denver Partnership for Health includes Boulder County Public Health, Broomfield Department of Public Health, Denver Department of Public Health & Environment, Jefferson County Public Health, the Public Health Institute at Denver Health, and the Tri-County Health Department.

Data show more than 77 percent of people ages 5 and older in the metro area have gotten one or more vaccines.

This story has been updated to include comments from Polis’ office. 

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