SOUTHERN COLORADO — The highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 has prompted new mandates from one of the largest health care providers in Southern Colorado.
UCHealth announced on Wednesday, July 28, they will require all employees, providers, volunteers, and partners to get vaccinated for COVID-19 by October 1. If an individual chooses to receive a vaccine with two doses, both doses must be administered by October 1. "We've done this with a lot of thought. We have previously mandated influenza vaccinations... The focus is the safety of our patients, of our staff, of our visitors, of everyone who walks in our building," said Dr. Michelle Barron, the senior medical director of infection prevention and control for UCHealth.
At this point, approximately 85% of UCHealth's 26,000 employees have been vaccinated. "Vaccination is an incredibly important tool for us to utilize, and it's the best way, in addition to other layers of protection that we have in our health care environment, to protect the people in our building as well as the community at large," said Dr. Barron.
Any employee who has been vaccinated by August 22 will get a $500 bonus as well. "It's a great example for the community to show, as a business, as an entity, that you want to make sure that everybody stays healthy and we really want this pandemic to be over," said Dr. Barron.
Vaccines will not be required for visitors to the hospital system. Masks are still worn in all clinical settings.
Dr. Barron said, from a legal standpoint, businesses can mandate COVID-19 vaccinations. "So far, when they've been challenged in other states, at least in those courts, have held up the notion that employers can have specific mandates including vaccinations for those employees," said Dr. Barron.
Those with UCHealth said the hospital system is currently caring for 85 hospitalized patients with COVID-19, which is an increase from June. "The Delta variant is showing what happens when we have not reached that threshold to where we have enough protection that we can prevent continued spread," said Dr. Barron.
Valid medical or religious reasons are acceptable exemptions to this new policy. Those who fall in that category would have to wear a mask at all times while in UCHealth buildings and would be tested for COVID-19 once a week.
Employees who do not get vaccinated and do not qualify for the exemptions will face termination.