Large Eagle County employers say vaccine mandates are working

Vail Health deadline passes for staffers to get vaccinated

Vials of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine wait to be filled into syringes Wednesday in Vail.

As federal requirements loom for employers to mandate vaccines, one local employer is already on that path.

East West Partners, a company with corporate arms in the development, real estate and hospitality businesses, in August announced it would require all of its employees to either be vaccinated or be tested weekly for COVID-19. A full vaccine requirement goes into effect Nov. 22.

At this point, a large majority of those employees have been vaccinated.

East West Vice President of Human Resources Nicole Greener said that about 90% of East West Partners employees have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Slifer Smith & Frampton Real Estate has seen about 85% of its employees vaccinated with at least one dose, and about 80% of East West Hospitality’s employees have received at least one shot.

“We have a number of people going through the vaccination process now,” Greener said. The company requirement, with the option for weekly testing, has led a number of people to say “I’m just going to do it,” Greener said. But, she added, several employees want to seek an exemption for health, religious or other reasons.

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Greener said East West will evaluate those requests, and hopes to provide “fair, equitable” treatment for them. But, she added, the company’s top priority is to protect its employees and customers.

“We want to be part of the solution in ending this pandemic,” she said.

At this point, though, no one in the East West companies has been dismissed.

Vail Health deadline passes

Vail Health is also requiring vaccines for its employees. Working under state requirements first issued Aug. 30, Sept. 30 was the deadline for employees to be vaccinated.

A Monday statement from Vail Health didn’t indicate how many, if any, employees had been dismissed after that deadline passed.

The statement reads, in part, “Vail Health made the decision to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for hospital staff after careful consideration and consultation with a variety of stakeholders. We trust the science behind the vaccine and know that it is our best tool in combating the ongoing pandemic.”

Vail Resorts employee deadline looms

Vail Resorts has also said that proof of vaccination will be required not only for all its employees, but for guests wishing to dine indoors at restaurants. Proof of vaccination will not be required for an indoor bathroom visit, according to Vail Resorts’ 2021-22 winter operating plan published last month.

The ski operator also announced face coverings will be required at its properties in indoor settings, including in restaurants, lodging properties, restrooms, retail and rental locations, and buses, during the 2021-22 ski season.

Employees will also be required to be vaccinated “for their safety and protection as well as the safety and protection of guests and resort communities, and in compliance with the recent rules announced under the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration,” according to the operating plan.

According to a Vail Resorts spokesperson, current employees who are not vaccinated have until Nov. 15 to do so.

Prioritizing health and safety

Greener said she and company officials talked about dismissing employees in the midst of a severe labor shortage. But, she added, positive tests, quarantines and isolation orders have already impacted the company’s workforce. One department was forced to shut down entirely earlier this year due to pandemic-related absences.

Even vaccinated people sometimes acquire “breakthrough” infections, Greener noted. But, she added, those cases aren’t common.

While the prospect of dismissing hard-to-replace employees isn’t pleasant, Greener said company officials ultimately went with the mandate.

“The reality is that our first and primary responsibility is to keep people safe and healthy,” she said. “It’s challenging; we’ll have people who don’t want to get vaccinated. But we’ll do our best to keep everybody happy.”

The rule

President Joe Biden in September announced a new federal rule for companies with more than 100 employees requiring vaccinations of those companies’ employees.

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