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Denver to lift vaccine requirement for city employees

People who resigned due to the mandate are generally eligible for rehire, while those who were terminated for violating the mandate cannot be rehired for 5 years.

DENVER — The public health order requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for all City and County of Denver employees and contractors will be lifted March 4 at 11:59 p.m.

Denver Department of Public Health & Environment (DDPHE) said the order in the city for private-sector workers in high-risk settings will also be lifted.

The city said private employers can still decide to require vaccines, and some people are still required by state or federal regulations to be vaccinated. 

"During the pandemic we have made data-informed decisions to protect residents and Denver is now at a place where it makes sense to lift the vaccine mandate," said DDPHE Executive Director Bob McDonald. "I want to thank everyone who complied with this mandate. By taking the step to be vaccinated and staying up to date on boosters, you have kept our hospital system from collapsing and have saved lives."

The mandate was put in place in the fall of 2021. Employees of the City of Denver had until Sept. 30, 2021 to get vaccinated or get a medical or religious exemption.

Declining case numbers

DDPHE said the one-week positivity rate of COVID-19 cases in Denver has dropped below 5% and modeling suggests lifting the vaccine mandate will not have a negative impact on this trend.

The Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment (CDPHE) estimates 90% of Coloradans are immune to the omicron variant and most are protected against severe disease.

RELATED: Is omicron leading us closer to herd immunity against COVID?

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DDPHE said declining COVID case numbers, in addition to vaccinations and boosters being free and widely available to the public, now make it possible to transition to a longer-term approach that treats COVID-19 as an endemic disease and reserves public health orders for urgent situations.

Employees dismissed

At least 23 city employees were dismissed for noncompliance of the vaccine mandate, 9Wants to Know found in November.

At the time, Denver's Department of Transportation & Infrastructure (DOTI) had the most employees, six, who were terminated for not complying with the mandate. Other city departments who terminated employees included the city attorney's office, Denver International Airport, Human Services, Parks and Recreation and the public library.

The city said Wednesday that employees who were terminated for violations of the vaccine mandate are not eligible for rehire for five years, in accordance with the Career Service Rules. Other discipline issued due to violations of the vaccine mandate will also stand.

The city said employees who resign, including those who resigned due to the vaccine mandate, are generally eligible for rehire.

"When employees resign, they are not asked to disclose the reason for their resignation, so there is not a record of employees who left their positions because of the mandate," the city said.

Legal action

9NEWS Legal Expert Whitney Traylor said employees terminated under the mandate still may not have legal recourse now that the mandate is ending.

"Certainly they could sue and try it, but I think the short answer is no for a number of reasons," he said.

"The reason the mandate was lifted, according to city's press release, was because the [COVID19] numbers are down, and everything is evening out," he said. "So [the health department] made the medical decision based on where we are. They didn’t say 'we found [the mandate] unlawful,' or 'everything's the same and we just decided to.' They said 'the numbers got to a place where medically, we're comfortable relying on the science at this level, so it's been lifted.' So I don’t think those employees will have a claim."

Earlier this month, a federal judge in Denver dismissed a lawsuit filed by several contractor associations that challenged the vaccine order for their employees that began last August.

The plaintiffs in that suit had 30 days to file an amended complaint. On Wednesday, the city said "this matter is still before the courts and we cannot comment on this case at this time."

RELATED: Federal judge dismisses Denver contractors' challenge of COVID-19 vaccine requirement

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