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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced late last week that it would ease up on requirements for facemasks and social distancing for fully vaccinated individuals. The move caught state and local leadership by surprise, causing public health entities such as Chaffee County Public Health (CCPH) to say “not so fast”.

Both the state of Colorado and the county need to revise existing public health orders. It is anticipated that this should occur by the middle of this week. But that leaves a question being asked all over this country. Once they clarify local standards, how we can be sure that the folks with whom we are coming in contact with are actually vaccinated? It’s as if all of us just got moved to the honor system.

The CDC has now approved the Pfizer vaccine to protect teens ages 12 and up from coronavirus. Photo courtesy CDC and unsplash.

The state of Colorado and our own CCPH goal is for at least 75 percent of eligible individuals vaccinated by July 1. It is an ambitious goal.

As local governments consider when and how to reopen buildings and transactions to the public, it would seem reasonable to ask — since our taxes pay their salaries — whether local government employees are doing better than the county’s current vaccination rate of 54.2 percent. At this point, it would appear that the municipal areas may be doing better than county residents.

“I don’t have exact numbers, as being vaccinated is not a prerequisite to work for the city.  I would estimate that our overall staff is at 80 percent vaccinated, but that would be just a guess,” said City Administrator Drew Nelson. “I can attest that we are over 90 percent here at City Hall.  And, to my knowledge, the City Council is 100 percent vaccinated.”

Buena Vista town employees seem to be doing just as well. “I don’t have an exact percentage but the vast majority have been vaccinated,” said Town Administrator Phillip Puckett. “No plans to require it.”

While the municipalities were cheerful about supplying some general sense of the vaccination levels of their employees, the county, through new Public Information Officer Beth Helmke, said “the county has not been tracking vaccination rates across all departments or for individual employees, so those data are not available.”

“In my interface with [county] departments they seem to be highly motivated,” said CCPH Executive Director Andrea Carlstrom a few weeks ago.

“Since the first COVID vaccines became available in December 2020, the county has consistently, proactively, and directly encouraged all staff, elected officials, and the general public to receive a vaccination at their earliest opportunity,” said Helmke in a written statement late last week.

She added that the county has not adopted a mandate for employee vaccinations and does not plan to at this point. “To our knowledge, there are no Colorado counties that have issued a mandate nor is the state pursuing a statewide vaccination requirement.”

Helmke did reinforce the county leadership mindset, saying [we] “continue to encourage and motivate all members of the community, including county employees, to do the right thing and take personal actions – including vaccination – to protect themselves, their loved ones, and our whole community against COVID.”

While Chaffee has placed a high priority on vaccinating the population, that focus on prevention and vaccines has not been consistent across the state. As the summer tourist season looms, that inconsistency is a worry for tourism-based economies such as Chaffee.

“What I can say is that as a statewide public health system, we’re a little surprised and disappointed at hitting the lull in vaccination rates that we have seen so early on — that we’ve seen in the rollout of the vaccination program,” commented CCPH Executive Director Andrea Carlstrom. “We have three buckets for those who have not gotten vaccinated: hesitant –the unmotivated, the violently opposed and those not yet eligible. We want to understand why, and to get out info and resources that vaccinations are safe; backed by science. They truly are the ticket to prevention.”