Since the COVID-19 vaccines became available earlier this year, there’s one question that some Summit County businesses and organizations have been weighing: whether or not to institute a vaccine requirement for staff and patrons.
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity’s website, current “laws do not prevent an employer from requiring all employees physically entering the workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19.” So while it’s not against the law for an organization or business to have this mandate in place, it’s still a potentially risky decision considering that it could isolate workers during a time when the county is already coping with severe labor shortages.
Still, a vaccine mandate is one that many leaders believe to be worth the risk. When the team at Lake Dillon Theatre Co. began evaluating whether or not to institute this policy, Artistic Director Chris Alleman said one of the deciding factors was that the organization works with children, a segment of the population that isn’t eligible to get vaccinated.
Prior to making this decision in April, Alleman said the theater’s seven full-time staff members already received the vaccine, and that the new policy would be enforced for the summer season. During this time, Alleman said the theater hired about 25 seasonal staff, and expectations were made clear during the hiring process before onboarding could begin.
Alleman said there was very little pushback from applicants during this process, and that most volunteered their vaccination status before it was asked of them.
“When we posted the job descriptions in the varying trades … we did post that we were requiring vaccinated folks only and when we were doing auditions, which were all done virtually, I would say anecdotally, about 80% of the people … actually told us they were vaccinated before they even auditioned,” Alleman said.
Of the 25 people hired, Alleman said only two weren’t fully vaccinated but agreed to receive the shot. The organization also recently announced that patrons would now have to be fully vaccinated to attend a show, and that individuals 12 and younger must show proof of a negative test taken within 48 hours of the performance.
Alleman and his team had the luxury of tackling the issue proactively, as did the team at Colorado Mountain College. The college announced in the spring that students enrolling in the fall who plan to live in a residence hall, participate in athletics or are enrolled in programs in fields that require immunization to COVID-19 — such as health care, public safety and first responder programs — must also receive the vaccine.
While the college’s Breckenridge and Dillon locations don’t have residence halls or offer athletic programs, they do offer nursing and first responder programs. Chief Operating Officer Matt Gianneschi confirmed that these students will need to receive the vaccination in order to participate in course work.
Gianneschi did note that there are certain exemptions that can be applied and, according to the college’s website, the organization “will develop a process for obtaining a medical or nonmedical exemption for students required to receive a COVID-19 vaccine due to their residential, athletic or program requirements.”
Gianneschi said just because this is the college’s current policy doesn’t mean it won’t ever be tweaked in the future.
“Our plan is as good as the day on which it is issued, recognizing that if conditions change, we will adapt and adopt potential modifications as appropriate,” he said.
Gianneschi said the college is not requiring faculty and staff to get vaccinated at this time, but that could change in the future.
While these two organizations are confident that this requirement is the best way to keep staff and patrons safe, others are taking a more cautious approach. Dr. Kathleen Cowie, chief medical officer for Summit Community Care Clinic, said that though the clinic’s team “feels strongly” that the vaccines are safe and effective, they’re still waiting to make any firm decisions.
“Some of the things that come into the decision to make the vaccine mandatory really reflect more national guidelines, which is why we’re waiting until the (Food and Drug Administration’s) emergency use authorization expires and it has full approval,” she said.
Another factor Cowie mentioned is that other businesses and health systems are struggling to retain staff after implementing a vaccine mandate. However, she did note that the majority of the staff is already vaccinated.
Moving forward, Cowie said the clinic will continue to have discussions about the topic.
“I think the COVID-19 vaccine has proved itself to be safe and effective in preventing hospitalizations and death from COVID-19 and this would not be the first time that a vaccine has been mandated to do a certain job,” she said. “Most health care entities require documentation of flu vaccination or documentation of a religious objection or adverse reactions. COVID-19 is much more transmissible than influenza, so it makes a lot of sense to require that vaccine in a health care setting in that light.”
Centura Health, which operates St. Anthony Summit Medical Center, has not implemented a vaccine requirement for its staff either, yet Communications Field Adviser Kevin Massey said the health system will continue to evaluate if this should be adopted in the future. Massey said 80% of the health system’s staff has been vaccinated so far, and that the company is offering a $500 appreciation bonus if they get vaccinated by Aug. 13.
Massey said to his knowledge, this decision-making process does not have ties to the organization’s Seventh-day Adventist and Catholic background.