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Colorado order doesn’t instruct hospitals to turn away the unvaccinated

November 6, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: Colorado’s governor issued an executive order allowing hospitals to turn away unvaccinated people and prioritize vaccinated people.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed an executive order recently that allows hospitals and emergency departments that are overwhelmed during surges in COVID-19 cases to stop admitting people and redirect them to other facilities, or transfer existing patients. However, the executive order makes no mention of unvaccinated people being denied care.

THE FACTS: Hospitals in Colorado are seeing a spike in COVID-19 patients, with hospitalizations at their highest since November 2020. As of Friday, 94% of adult care hospital beds are in use, according to the state health department’s data dashboard. Nearly 80% of COVID-19 patients hospitalized in the state as of Friday were unvaccinated.

To stop hospitals from becoming overwhelmed, Polis signed an executive order last week authorizing the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to direct facilities to stop admitting patients if they reach capacity, and divert patients to other hospitals. It also says medical centers can transfer existing patients to other facilities without the consent of the patient or the receiving facility.

But social media posts circulating this week falsely claimed that the executive order directs hospitals to deny unvaccinated people treatment.

“Just in: Colorado Governor mandates that hospitals do NOT have to treat the unvaccinated,” one tweet falsely claimed. Another widely shared tweet claimed that the executive order meant hospitals and emergency departments can “prioritize care to the vaccinated and turn away the Un-vaxed!!”

The executive order has nothing to do with patients’ vaccination status, however. While some affected by it may be unvaccinated, the order does not directly target those patients, and anyone can be transferred or turned away regardless of vaccination status.

“CDPHE is authorized to direct those facilities to transfer patients to prevent overwhelming the capacity of a facility and its staff,” Elizabeth Kosar, deputy press secretary for the Colorado governor’s office, told The Associated Press. “The Executive Order doesn’t even mention or have anything to do with vaccination status.”

Kosar added that hospitals must still comply with parts of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act that require them to provide stabilizing treatment before initiating a transfer to another hospital. Medical facilities are also required to provide a medical screening to any individual who comes to the emergency department and requests examination or treatment.

Nearly 20,000 new COVID-19 cases and 200 deaths were reported in Colorado in the last week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. As of Friday, 95% of ICU beds are in use, according to state health department data.

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Associated Press writer Sophia Tulp in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.