Mesa County’s COVID-19 vaccination rate is lagging behind other large counties in Colorado, and that’s having an effect on the local economy.
Grand Junction Economic Partnership Executive Director Robin Brown said businesses that are looking to move and/or expand into the Grand Junction area are being turned off by the low vaccination rate here.
“People look at what’s happening and they don’t want to come here,” Brown said.
As of Monday, 38% of eligible Mesa County residents were fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and 43% had received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to Mesa County Public Health’s COVID-19 dashboard.
The dashboard reported 102,978 total vaccine doses have been administered in Mesa County.
Mesa County’s vaccination rate is the lowest of the 15 most populous counties in Colorado, according to Public Health Director Jeff Kuhr. It’s also declining.
Last week’s first-dose numbers were less than they have been for some time, Kuhr said.
Kuhr said he understands why businesses might be hesitant to move into the area when they see the low vaccination rate.
Having a low vaccination rate could also be indicative of other negative community trends and behaviors they might not want to be a part of, Kuhr said.
Businesses that are looking to expand in the Grand Junction area are having trouble hiring because of COVID-19, Brown said.
Vaccinated employees don’t have to quarantine if exposed to COVID-19, whereas unvaccinated employees have to quarantine for 10 days when exposed, which means missing work for those who are unable to work from home. That can put workplaces that require on-site work in a bind if they have an outbreak.
“It costs more for employees to be sick,” Brown said.
Mesa County Public Health’s COVID-19 dashboard lists 20 active COVID-19 outbreaks in the county, including two at workplaces.
West Star Aviation is experiencing an outbreak with seven cases and Ed Bozarth Chevrolet and Buick is experiencing an outbreak with nine cases, according to the dashboard.
At one point in April, there were only two active outbreaks, Kuhr said.
One of the reasons for that increase is the Delta variant of COVID-19, which is becoming more and more prevalent in Mesa County. COVID-19 vaccines are likely effective against the variant, Kuhr said, so the strategy for containing it remains the same: vaccinating people.
Kuhr said he was unwilling to entertain mandating masks or closing businesses in response to rising COVID-19 levels in Mesa County. Vaccination is the way forward, he said.
Some employers are taking steps to vaccinate more of their employees.
While companies are allowed to mandate their employees be vaccinated, they’re hesitant to do that, Brown said.
CoorsTek, for example is working with public health to plan an on-site vaccination clinic in the near future, according to CoorsTek senior director of global communications Nancy Fullerton.
A mobile vaccination clinic was held a few weeks ago at CoorsTek’s Golden location, Fullerton said in an email.
“They (employers) are just trying to make it as easy as possible,” Brown said.
Mesa County Public Health is also taking steps to incentivize being vaccinated with its Big Shot Giveaway, which gives out two $500 prizes each week and a jackpot that grows with the number of people who have been vaccinated in the county. The jackpot was at $51,411 as of Tuesday.
The county is hosting a mobile vaccine clinic from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday at 759 Horizon Drive, according to a public health press release.
Both the one-shot and two-shot vaccines will be available, the release said, and the shot is free and no I.D., insurance or appointment is required.
Whether the incentives are enough to turn the tide in Mesa County’s fight to vaccinate the public remains to be seen.
“I don’t think there’s one solution,” Brown said. “I like to think there’s a lot of little solutions to try to tackle it.”