Unvaccinated Colorado State Workers Will Face Routine COVID-19 Testing And Have To Wear Masks Indoors

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
A mass vaccination clinic at the National Western Complex in Denver on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2021. SCL Health partnered with dozens of community organizations including The Center for African American Health, The Senior Hub and The Center on Colfax, as well as the city and state, to create this pop-up clinic designed to get vaccinations into vulnerable seniors from underserved communities.

The state of Colorado became the latest government to ratchet up the pressure on unvaccinated workers, announcing Friday that those who choose not to get protected from COVID-19 will face routine testing for the virus and must continue to wear face coverings when inside buildings.

In an afternoon announcement that closely mirrors one made Thursday by President Joe Biden, Gov. Jared Polis said state employees without proof of COVID-19 vaccination will now be tested twice weekly, with results submitted to human resources. When they prove they are fully vaccinated, they can stop being tested.

“The state of Colorado has a responsibility to lead by example and to model workplace safety policies that reduce community spread and protect our workers and those who interact with them. The COVID-19 vaccine is safe and highly effective even against the Delta variant, and we encourage all eligible Coloradans including state employees to get vaccinated,” Polis said in a statement. “We need more help to end this pandemic and I know that our state employees can rise to the challenge just like families, individuals, and businesses across Colorado and our country are doing.”

Polis positioned his announcement as an effort to protect vaccinated state employees from exposure to the highly transmissible delta variant. A report Friday from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that a recent Massachusetts outbreak sickened hundreds, 75 percent of whom were fully vaccinated.

That study prompted the CDC this week to recommend that even vaccinated people return to wearing masks while inside public spaces. The Polis administration is reviewing that guidance but has not issued a mandatory face coverings order for state workers or other Coloradans.

“I have heard from state employees who are terrified that their unvaccinated co-workers will give them COVID-19 and want vaccination mandated, and from other state workers who have hesitation towards the vaccine. I think this middle road is the right one to take, respecting the right of state workers to decide while also taking effective steps to address the legitimate safety concerns of fellow state workers,” Polis said.

Representatives of Colorado's largest state employees union did not immediately respond to a text message seeking comment on the Polis order. The new policy will go into effect Sept. 20, which would give an unvaccinated worker time to get both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and allow them to take effect before testing begins.

Following the initial surge of interest in getting the vaccine that pushed Colorado past 70 percent of eligible residents with at least one dose of vaccine, the effort here, and nationwide, has stalled.

Just more than 50 percent of all Coloradans are now fully vaccinated, and Polis has tried everything from neighborhood outreach and targeted text messages to social media influencers and cash giveaways in an effort to get more people vaccinated.