Aug 17, 2021 - COVID

Some safety officials in Colorado are bucking mask and vaccine rules

A photo of a Denver police officer wearing a face mask

A Denver police officer stands by during a political demonstration in April 2020. Photo: Jason Connolly/AFP via Getty Images

Law enforcement members in Colorado and across the country are resisting COVID-19 vaccines and ignoring mask mandates.

Why it matters: Scores of local public safety officials — charged daily with protecting and regularly interacting with the public — have tested positive for the virus. Two Denver sheriff's deputies have died from the disease.

  • The fatalities here add to the growing national toll. More than 500 officers have lost their lives to the illness since the pandemic began, Axios' Russell Contreras reports.

State of play: First responders — including police, sheriff's deputies and troopers — were among the first to be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine when the shots became available in late December.

  • Denver Mayor Michael Hancock is now requiring vaccines, or regular COVID tests, for city employees, including law enforcement officials. They have until Sept. 30 to comply or risk being fired.
  • And Gov. Jared Polis will require all unvaccinated state employees to be tested twice weekly and wear masks in indoor public areas beginning Sept. 20.

Context: With COVID-19 cases surging thanks to the Delta variant, a Denver Police Protective Association survey recently found 57% of its members aren't vaccinated, a poll first published by Denver CBS4.

By the numbers: New data from Denver's public safety department, obtained by Axios, shows 10%, or 426 public safety employees across Denver's police, fire, sheriff and safety agencies, have tested positive for COVID and reported a workers' compensation claim since the start of the pandemic.

  • The overall case count in Colorado is also 10% of the population.
  • Approximately 50 Colorado State Patrol troopers also have contracted the virus, and at least four are currently in quarantine, according to agency spokesperson Kimberly Ramsey. It remains unknown how many troopers have been vaccinated, she said.

Meanwhile, complaints against first responders without masks have stacked up, Axios has learned.

  • Between Denver police, sheriff's deputies and state troopers, law enforcement officials have accumulated 71 complaints from the public and inmates for failing to mask up when mandated. Most resulted in verbal warnings, and none led to termination.

The bottom line: Like health care workers, teachers and the military, the COVID status of Colorado's public safety officials could have ripple effects for the communities they serve.


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