On Sunday, the state Department of Public Health and Environment issued an order mandating that people at large, unseated public indoor events in the metro area show proof of vaccination (or, for the moment, a negative COVID-19 test) for attendance.
The move is the first recent step taken by health officials to alter public life amid the ongoing COVID-19 surge, which already threatens hospital capacity and is projected to continue to worsen over the coming weeks. Though other recent state moves have been aimed squarely at hospitals and the crush on their bed space, the vaccination passport requirement is a sign, Gov. Jared Polis said last week, that the state "can't afford a super-spreader event."
So what's covered in the order?
What type of events or venues are covered by the order?
The order says it applies to all "unseated" and "open to the public Indoor Events" with "500 or more individuals" in attendance. That means event centers and sporting arenas, as well as "larger dance clubs and bars," the health department said in an email to The Denver Gazette.
There's further nuance: Some venues may have large and thus covered events, and they might also have seated or smaller events, which would not require proof of vaccination.
"Unseated events make it more difficult for patrons to practice physical distancing, which could increase disease transmission," the health department said.
Where and when is it effective?
The order applies to most of the metro area: Denver, Arapahoe, Adams, Boulder, Broomfield and Jefferson counties. It takes effect Friday. But some venues already have measures in place that require either proof of vaccination or a recent negative test. The order gives venues with a negative test option until Dec. 1 to switch to a vaccination-or-nothing policy.
It applies to everyone 12 and older, and would-be attendees must be fully vaccinated to gain entrance.
Most of the metro area counties are expressly covered, and the order goes on to "strongly" encourage "all county and municipal government jurisdictions" elsewhere to enact similar requirements. But the state did not issue those requirements itself.
Can events or venues be exempted?
Similar to some public health orders last year, the state will allow for variance requests. But that would require the venues to establish "disease mitigation measures that will similarly protect individuals from further disease spread," according to the order.
Though the agency suggested face-covering requirements may be a part of any successful variance request, it did not say specifically what would qualify a venue or event for a waiver. The requests must be submitted to the state health department.
Is anybody else doing this?
Vaccine passport and proof of inoculation requirements are becoming increasingly common nationwide. New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco all require passports on a more extensive level than Colorado, though a coalition of health departments in the metro area have asked Polis and the state health agency to adopt a similar policy for bars, restaurants and other public-facing establishments here. Sports teams and venues across the country have enacted their own policies, independent of local or state-level requirements.
What if I'm partially vaccinated?
No dice. The order requires proof of full vaccination. Some venues and events can accept negative tests through the end of this month. But come Dec. 1, full vaccination is the threshold.
Will the venues require masks?
The order does not mandate venues to require masks for events of any size, seated or unseated. Some may have their own policies, and some — in order to pursue an exemption from this order — may fold them into future plans. But there's no express face-covering requirement in the broader health order issued Sunday.
What about capacity limits?
The order says nothing about capacity limits, except to set the 500-person threshold for when an unseated event needs a vaccination requirement.
"The state is committed to getting through the surge without statewide closures or statewide capacity restrictions, wherever possible," the health department said when it announced the order Sunday.
Why is the state doing this now?
Colorado is in the midst of its second-worst COVID-19 peak of the pandemic, in terms of raw hospitalization numbers. But it's projected to top late 2020's surge, and there are actually fewer hospital beds available now than there were a year ago.
Polis told health officials and reporters last week that the order is intended to stop super-spreader events; such an event could spread COVID-19, now driven by the very transmissible delta variant, to large numbers of people in quick succession, which could then accelerate hospital need at a time when it's already stretched thin.
State leaders are increasingly looking at ways to prevent hospitalizations, while also avoiding broader public health orders like masking or capacity limits.