Low vaccination rates make many counties in the Mountain West especially vulnerable to the COVID-19 delta variant right now, according to data from the public health research group PHICOR. That’s prompting tough new action from some state and federal officials.
On Thursday, President Biden announced he’s asking all federal employees to “attest” to their vaccination status. Those who aren’t vaccinated will also need to submit to weekly testing and will be mostly banned from travel. There are roughly 160,000 federal employees living in the Mountain West.
Gov. Steve Sisolak announced last week that he’s planning to require Nevada state employees to either show proof of vaccinations or submit to weekly testing. The news comes as the Las Vegas area continues to see a surge in COVID-19 cases.
“The whole idea of [Sisolak’s] mandate is to make it inconvenient to be unvaccinated,” said Brian Labus, a professor of public health at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. “It’s going to be difficult to stay unvaccinated when it's much easier just to get the vaccine. So hopefully that will push a lot of people towards getting vaccinated.”
Biden also announced that the Department of Defense is looking into a vaccination requirement for armed service personnel – including those working at large military bases in Nevada, Utah, Colorado and elsewhere.
However, some states in the West have recently passed laws weakening the authority of local and state governments to take action during a public health crisis. They include banning quarantines in Montana and blocking vaccine requirements for hospitals and universities in Arizona.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
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