Hancock Not Taking No for Answer About Homeless Vaccinations

Mayor Michael Hancock during the February 11 press conference updating the public about the city's COVID-19 response.
Mayor Michael Hancock during the February 11 press conference updating the public about the city's COVID-19 response.
During a February 9 press conference, Governor Jared Polis politely but firmly rejected Denver's request to prioritize members of its homeless population for vaccination against COVID-19. But Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, speaking at his own press conference today, February 11, refused to take no for an answer. Instead, he continued to stress the need for getting members of the city's unhoused population inoculated as soon as possible, and revealed that if the federal government agrees to directly ship medication to cities, as he hopes, he'll devote some of the supply to that purpose.

Hancock also countered Polis's assertion that more people will die if homeless individuals younger than 65 are pushed ahead of seniors in the vaccination line by suggesting that his efforts would prevent different kinds of fatalities.

"The cold wave coming through is a perfect example," Hancock said, since many homeless individuals "are still concerned about going indoors to shelter even though we believe it's safe because of COVID-19." For that reason, he explained, "we believe we should be able to vaccinate them as well as the people who work with them on a very regular basis, so people will feel confident going indoors during inclement weather" — rather than risking their life in the great, freezing outdoors.

Hancock had raised the issue of the city getting a direct supply of vaccine in a recent conference call with Vice President Kamala Harris, he said. But he also stressed the importance of Denver receiving reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for expenses incurred in the fight against the novel coronavirus over the course of the pandemic, as has been promised. FEMA owes the city $61 million, Hancock explained, and if it doesn't pony up soon, Denver officials may have no choice but to cut regular city services because of the money pinch.

In addition to those federal matters, Hancock discussed the city's plans to set up static vaccination sites in four neighborhoods dominated by residents who have been traditionally underserved; the first is scheduled to open in Montbello next Thursday, February 18, with the other three to launch in different quadrants over the weeks that follow. The idea is to provide regular, reliable vaccinations on a seven-day-a-week basis to folks who may not have a pharmacy or health clinic nearby.

Additionally, Hancock praised those businesses that signed up for the 5 Star program, which is intended to allow enterprises that went above and beyond in terms of safety protocols to open at capacity guidelines for Level Yellow on the state's COVID-19 dial system. While Polis recently moved much of the state to Level Yellow, Hancock argued that 5 Star participants will still receive a benefit, since they'll be among the first to move to Level Blue when 70 percent of Coloradans age seventy and up have been vaccinated.

Also on hand was Denver Department of Public Health and Environment Executive Director Bob McDonald. During his presentation, McDonald offered an overview of improving data in Denver (the latest cumulative case count per 100,000 residents sat at 137, far below the peak of 728 on November 21), and expressed optimism that the city will be able to keep numbers from spiking as they did late last year if residents continue to follow recommendations about the use of facial coverings in public, social distancing, frequent hand washing and the like.

The highlight of a subsequent question-and-answer session was Hancock's response to a question about how he would characterize the federal government's efforts under the Donald Trump administration: He laughed, then apologized for laughing while still laughing, before moving on to praise President Joe Biden. He also twice avoided mentioning the last name of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, with whom officials from cities around the country also conducted a recent virtual meeting, instead referring to him only as "Secretary Pete."

For what it's worth, "Buttigieg" is pronounced "Boot Edge Edge," as his campaign signs once instructed. You're welcome, Mr. Mayor.
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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