July 15, 2024

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Summit County businesses, government workers prepare for President Biden’s new vaccine rules

Syringes filled with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine wait to be used during a drive-thru clinic at the Summit Stage bus depot in Frisco on Friday, March 19, 2021.
Jason Connolly/For the Summit Daily News

Last week, President Joe Biden announced extensive vaccine protocols that could impact what some are estimating to be about 100 million Americans, including federal employees and contractors, private sector employees and health care workers.

The announcement of the president’s six-pronged plan means that businesses with over 100 employees, as well as federal and health care workers, must prepare for new mandates that will require them to either be vaccinated or regularly tested.

While the announcement came as a shock to many, Summit County Public Health Director Amy Wineland said the national COVID-19 data tells a concerning story and that some numbers are worse compared to months ago when vaccines were starting to roll out to the general public.

“You can never predict what’s going to happen,” she said. “We definitely know and have been watching what’s happening nationally as far as the increase in cases. I think there’s been a 300% increase in cases since June. … It’s becoming very concerning here in the state as well, as hospitalizations now have surpassed what we saw in April and actually we’re seeing a number of hospitalizations matching what we saw in January.”

At a virtual state press conference on Friday, Sept. 10, Gov. Jared Polis and his team reported that there are currently ​​894 hospitalizations in the state and that 726 of those cases are individuals that are unvaccinated.

Scott Bookman, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s COVID-19 incident commander, said that there are less than 200 ICU beds available across the state and that some are already beginning to implement their surge plans, opening additional ICU beds, canceling scheduled surgeries and closing clinics to reallocate staff to needed departments.

Bookman said during the press conference that this increase in hospitalizations is in part due to the fact that Coloradans have largely returned to normal lives and in part due to those who have delayed accessing health care for the last year or so.

“What comes with that is additional cases of trauma, additional heart attacks, additional strokes,” Bookman said. “We have seen people who have delayed care because they were afraid to go to their doctor. This is all coming together with the increase in COVID hospitalizations at this point to really stress our health care system.”

Locally, Wineland said St. Anthony Summit Medical Center is not reaching surge capacity, but she said she’s worried about potential new variants that could possibly be more deadly, contagious and vaccine-resistant then the delta variant.

Both Polis and Wineland said their departments do not have any additional information for how the president’s new mandates and protocols might be rolled out. Both noted that it’s in the U.S. Department of Labor’s hands to roll out these new programs.

Though controversial, Wineland said Biden’s announcements could potentially take the burden off of businesses that might’ve been struggling over whether or not to implement a vaccine requirement for staff.

“It’s been challenging for businesses to navigate the two competing pandemic realities,” she said. “Some companies are desperately trying to get back to business, which part of that is ensuring they have a healthy workforce that’s not going to be out for 10 days or 14 days at a time. But also it’s a challenge to mandate vaccines because I think that businesses are worried that they might lose their workforce to rivals who might not be mandating vaccines. This really kind of helps put everybody in the same boat, so perhaps that worry will not be there.”

Many local organizations that could be impacted by these new mandates, such as the U.S. Forest Service’s Dillon Ranger District, are still figuring out what their next move is as details for these new requirements are still being finalized.

David Rupert, manager for the United States Postal Service strategic communications, said these new mandates do not impact his organization.

“The COVID-19 vaccination requirements included in the White House executive order issued on Sept. 9, 2021, for federal employees do not apply to the postal service,” wrote Rupert in an email. “Regarding other vaccination rules expected to be issued by the federal government, the Postal Service has no comment until those rules are issued and we have had a chance to review them.”

As for businesses that could be impacted, Vail Resorts spokesperson Sara Lococo said the company was planning to review internally to determine next steps.

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