Coronavirus

Polis on Biden Vaccine Mandate Rules: "We Don't Know"

A masked Colorado Governor Jared Polis and President Joe Biden during his speech about COVID-19 vaccinations on September 9.
A masked Colorado Governor Jared Polis and President Joe Biden during his speech about COVID-19 vaccinations on September 9. colorado.gov/White House via CNBC
At a September 10 press conference about COVID-19, assembled journalists peppered Governor Jared Polis with questions about various vaccine mandates announced the previous day by President Joe Biden. But Polis couldn't fill in the details. His responses included "We don't know" and "We want to know all these answers, just like you."

What's clear to Polis, as well as lead state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy and COVID-19 incident commander Scott Bookman, his guests at the media availability, is that the disease remains at a very high level across the country, including in Colorado. This observation was borne out by 2,189 newly reported cases and 902 current hospitalizations; Bookman said the latter number, which includes seventeen children, represents the second-highest number over the course of the pandemic, eclipsing the peak during the first wave of what was then referred to as the novel coronavirus.

Polis responded to these figures by launching into yet another modified PowerPoint presentation about why people should get vaccinated. As he has many times in the past, he argued that folks should roll up their sleeves not because anyone tells them they should, but because they care about their own health and that of their friends and loved ones. But he also exhibited more than his usual degree of frustration with the approximately 25 percent of eligible Coloradans who still haven't received even one shot of a vaccine. He emphasized that this smaller slice of the population pie accounts for more than 80 percent of hospitalizations — and while capacity at medical centers is still holding, the number of available intensive-care-unit beds statewide has just slipped under 200, landing at 197.

He seemed even more irritated by those who "think they've found something that the world's top scientists and doctors haven't" and are touting bogus cures and faux-preventative measures rather than inoculations. He also stressed that not a single hospitalization in the state right now is the result of vaccine side effects. In his words, "This is all unnecessary, because people could be vaccinated."


During her time at the podium, Herlihy again stressed the added protections provided by the vaccines, while Bookman thanked health-care workers who've been working tirelessly month after month to care for people who've gotten ill — a group that continues to be dominated by vaccine-avoiders.

For his part, Polis noted that while more than 75 percent of eligible Coloradans have gotten at least one dose of a vaccine, the number falls to 56.8 percent of total residents with the inclusion of children younger than twelve, for whom a vaccine has not yet been approved. He's optimistic that this group will have a chance to get immunized as early as October. In the meantime, however, both he and Herlihy encouraged individuals who live with or spend a lot of time around such children to get vaccinated and wear face coverings in their presence. Herlihy also suggested that mask use in public places remains a good idea, since even vaccinated people can unwittingly spread the virus to others.

Despite the seriousness of the situation, Polis repeatedly dodged inquiries about when he might consider making masks mandatory in schools, offering up his usual endorsement of local control. He also advocated that kids in places where school districts don't require face coverings to mask up anyhow without addressing what such children might do if they're bullied for taking this advice.

Regarding the topic of the Biden mandates, which dominated the closing Q&A session, Polis didn't seem concerned about the lack of clarity right now, since he's confident the procedures will be spelled out soon. "We have the same information that you have, which is the broad outlines of what it may look like," he told reporters. "They've notified us that the U.S. Department of Labor will engage in rulemaking. We'll probably see it the same time you do."
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts