During a May 6 press conference updating residents about the ongoing fight against COVID-19, Mayor Michael Hancock announced that Denver will adopt the state's updated face-covering order, which allows individuals to go mask-free indoors in groups of ten or more if at least 80 percent of those present have been vaccinated.
But that 80 percent threshold — and an 85 percent standard for restaurant employees who want to avoid masking on the job — must be proven by documentation such as a vaccination card. While displaying the card or its equivalent is technically voluntary, the 80 and 85 percent requirements can only be met if enough people comply to make up for anti-vaxxers or members of the freedom crowd that derides such measures as show-me-your-papers rules.
Hancock began his remarks by touting Denver's vaccination success thus far: 63 percent of Denver residents over the age of fifteen have received at least one shot, and 45 percent have received two, he said.
"It's not time to declare victory," he quickly added, since vaccine resistance and hesitancy involving "our communities of color, younger adults and older white males" continue to run rampant. With that in mind, Hancock challenged Denver to exceed the goal recently set by President Joe Biden to vaccinate 70 percent of eligible adults in the U.S. by July 4. Hancock wants to see more than 60 percent of Denver's total population, including children, to be inoculated by June 1 and 70 percent by July 1.
Hitting these marks won't be easy, since kids younger than sixteen haven't yet been approved for vaccination — although Hancock is hopeful the Pfizer medication will get a federal okay for those between twelve and fifteen as soon as next week. But pushing for these levels is important, he continued, because "everyone who gets vaccinated brings us one step closer to having folks being able to sit in restaurants, go to gyms or attend gatherings with family and friends. And economic recovery depends on public-health recovery."
Next to speak was Denver Department of Public Health and Environment Executive Director Bob McDonald, who cheered a slow decline in COVID-19 case numbers across the city and a positivity rate that remains under the 5 percent figure seen as a red line by officials. But he acknowledged that hospitalizations are up in part because of an influx of younger patients, and pointed out that the vaccination rate in communities of color, and particularly for Denver's Latinx citizens, still lags.
Addressing both of these issues were Denver Clerk and Recorder Paul López, who said he believes he caught COVID-19, and Nelson Caballeros, who got so sick he required hospitalization and continues to suffer from headaches and fatigue months later. Both talked about the importance of lining up to get shots, and López repeated his comments in Spanish.
After remarks from Denver Department of Housing Stability Executive Director Britta Fisher, who touted a new project to transform Denver's Stay Inn Hotel into a shelter and then transitional housing (the city is seeking an additional $2 million in federal funding), Hancock invited questions. There was only one — about the nuts and bolts of the mask order. McDonald emphasized that managers of businesses can take advantage of the 80 percent and 85 percent regulations if they'd like, but they don't have to.
This won't be an option at places such as grocery stores and large retail outlets, McDonald admitted, since ensuring that 80 percent of customers are vaccinated simply isn't practical. At such settings, he said, "we'll keep face coverings in place for a little longer."
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