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State announces required COVID-19 vaccinations for staff in 24/7 facilities

The state vaccine mandate would apply to the corrections, human services, state health department and other staff in contact with vulnerable populations.

COLORADO, USA — State agencies made a joint announcement that staff members working in 24/7 facilities will be required to receive a COVID-19 vaccination. 

The staff in state facilities affected includes the Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC), the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS) and the Colorado Department of Public Health (CDPHE) – including staff and other state employees who interact with vulnerable populations. 

The agencies said in a news release that they are following guidelines from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and state public health officials who agree "that the best way to protect Coloradans is for individuals to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19." 

Representatives from the state agencies agreed that vaccinations for staff is the right thing to do – including CDHS Executive Director Michelle Barnes. 

“We are in the health care business. It is our ultimate responsibility to do everything we can to protect and provide for the wellbeing of our clients, and one another,” said Barnes. “Our clients are in congregate care settings. This virus and its variants have hit these environments hard. It is incumbent upon us to do the right thing for our clients, staff, loved ones and community."

Staff members in CDOC and CDPHE facilities will have until Sept. 30 to receive the first dose of the vaccine and must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 31. 

These are the specific employees that are required to get the vaccine, according to the release:

  • For CDOC: all CDOC employees that interface with the public, interact with inmates or parolees, or who enter into facilities as part of their job assignment will be required to receive the vaccine. CDOC will also require other state employees, contract employees, visitors, volunteers and vendors who enter a prison facility to be vaccinated (with some accommodations made for extenuating circumstances).

  • For CDHS: all CDHS direct care and support staff who regularly enter CDHS facilities, including all leadership positions at CDHS and other state employees who may interact with facility staff, will be required to receive the vaccine. CDHS will also require proof of vaccination for contractors who regularly enter facilities and interact with clients. This includes but is not limited to providers of OT/PT, education providers, security personnel, and temporary staff.

  • For CDPHE: all CDPHE employees, temporary staff, and contractors who go in-person to health facilities to perform a job duty (e.g., long-term care facility inspectors); staff and contractors who are on-site administering or managing vaccine or testing events; staff and contractors in the Disease Control and Public Health Response Division (DCPHR), including from the State Lab and Office of Emergency Preparedness and Response; and staff and contractors who could come in face-to-face contact with moderate-to-severe immunocompromised Coloradans through the regular course of their duties, as defined by the CDC’s additional dose recommendations.

In a press conference Tuesday, CDOC Executive Director Dean Williams was asked if the state can handle a mass exodus of prison staff, if CDOC employees decide not to get the vaccine.

"We know that the risk exists," he said. "Here's the deal, the risk of not taking this step potentially exposes us to another onslaught of the variant in the fall and the winter. So, this really is a case, as my dad used to say, kind of a damned if you, damned if you don't. But this is the right thing to do knowing that even those risks of staff not showing up may just decide that this is not the department to work for."

The director said the state has already hired some retired staff and other temporary staff during the pandemic, and they could hire more. He hopes, however, that the majority of CDOC employees stay.

"But I've asked my staff to toil and struggle with me over this decision and hopefully they will and come to the right conclusion to stay with the department because we appreciate them and we need them," Williams said.

CDOC and CDHS said employees have had access to the vaccine since Jan. 2021 and have been offered numerous vaccine clinics for staff, inmates and clients – even some clinics that offered cash incentives.

The current percentage of DOC staff who are fully vaccinated is 58.7% and 64% of inmates have received their first shot.

The current vaccination rate for CDHS staff is 77% and 73% for residents and clients.      

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