Steamboat Resort weighing options on requiring employee vaccinations after Aspen Skiing Co. announces mandate |

Steamboat Resort weighing options on requiring employee vaccinations after Aspen Skiing Co. announces mandate

Aspen Skiing Co. announced Tuesday that it will require employees to be vaccinated before the start of the ski season — a move that appears to be the first by a ski resort in Colorado but may not be the last.

The Skico announcement comes about a week after President Joe Biden said he would require all companies with more than 100 employees to require vaccination or a periodic negative test, though no final order has been produced and myriad questions around which businesses the mandate would apply to remain.

“We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin. And your refusal has cost all of us,” Biden said to unvaccinated Americans in an address from the White House on Sept. 9 announcing the mandate.

Vaccine requirements in Aspen hope to prevent the third ski season in a row from being severely impacted by the pandemic, especially since Pitkin County — home to Aspen — was forced to shutter restaurants in the middle of last year’s ski season because of COVID-19 cases. Biden said his mandates are about protecting a fragile economy that has been growing since vaccines became widely available earlier this year.

UCHealth has already required the vaccine for its employees across the state, including those at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, one of the largest local employers. The senior living community Casey’s Pond has also required their employees to be vaccinated.

Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. has not made a decision on vaccination or testing requirements for its employees this season, instead saying they are waiting for the official order from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, part of the Department of Labor, that Biden said he would use to put employee mandates in place.

“Steamboat Ski Resort leadership continues to discuss this topic daily,” said Loryn Duke, the resort’s director of communications, in an email. “Our current policy is asking staff for proof of vaccination and requires staff who do not show proof to wear masks while working indoors.”

Resort leadership is discussing various scenarios that impact their workforce, and they are working with local public health officials to discuss options moving forward, Duke said.

While Aspen’s ski resort has a vaccination rate near 90% among employees, Skico President and CEO Mike Kaplan said in an email to employees that the company is still exposed in certain departments and as a community because of the delta variant, according to The Aspen Times. That 90% figure is based on current employees and does not count the roughly 2,500 the company adds for the winter season.

Superintendent Brad Meeks with the Steamboat Springs School District, one of the largest employers in the county, said they have not really discussed mandating the vaccine for school staff. He said just before school started, 92% of the district’s staff was already vaccinated.

“I think with that high vaccination rate, right at this point, we are not considering that,” Meeks said, adding that they are encouraging students and staff get vaccinated, even if there is no mandate.

The district is working to set up serial testing in partnership with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment that would be available for all staff and students in the district, regardless of vaccination status.

There have been about 50 cases of COVID-19 among Steamboat students in the first few weeks of school compared to about 75 total through the previous school year. Still, just 15 students have needed to quarantine because contact with a case in large degree because many are vaccinated.

“A combination of high vaccination rates and hopefully getting people participating in the serial testing, we’ll just see what that data shows and whether or not we need to consider requiring everybody to vaccinate or not,” Meeks said.

Neither Routt County nor the city of Steamboat Springs, both significant employers in the county, are considering a mandate for their employees either, and neither knows just how many of their employees are vaccinated.

“It comes up, or I’ll hear it in the hallways, but no, we have not formally discussed a vaccination mandate,” said Steamboat Springs City Manager Gary Suiter, though they are encouraging vaccination. “I think the vaccine — that’s the ticket out of this pandemic, so the more the better.”

Apart from questions to County Attorney Erick Knaus about whether the county would be subject to Biden’s proposed mandate, Routt County Commissioner Tim Corrigan said they hadn’t discussed imposing a mandate on county staff either.

“If it turns out that we are subject to the OSHA rules, of course, we would comply,” Corrigan said.

Still, the problem that Corrigan said he sees with Biden’s mandate is how the county would deal with things like religious exemptions if it needed to comply. He also questioned how many more people would actually roll up their sleeves, even if vaccinations were required for their job.

“How much bang do you really get for the buck?” Corrigan asked, citing the county’s 66% fully vaccinated rate among all residents in the county, not just those eligible. “We’re never going to get to 100%. Maybe we could get to 80%, maybe 85%, and I guess the question I would ask myself is, ‘Do we still have a chance of getting to that 80% or 85% without mandates?’”

Dr. Brian Harrington, Routt County’s Chief Medical Officer, said an employer requiring the vaccine for employees would likely make some difference in vaccination rates, but he wasn’t sure people should be counting on them to end the pandemic.

“I don’t know that we should hold out hope that some kind of requirement is going to get us easily to some magical number because I think there are many people with pretty fixed beliefs about vaccines,” Harrington said. “It can make a difference; I think the question is how much.”

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