By Alan Gionet

DENVER (CBS4) – Like many colleges, Metropolitan State University of Denver is looking forward to a change of scenery in the fall. The Auraria campus filled with students and many, having been vaccinated, not under requirements to wear masks. The decision to require vaccination against COVID-19, says President Janine Davidson, was a decision carefully weighed, but ultimately with a message.

“To make the statement that getting the vaccine is actually important. And that it is the best way to keep everybody as safe as possible.”

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Like other colleges and universities and organizations now seeking to require vaccination, they sought legal counsel.

“Given the Colorado law about exemptions and the way we asked the questions, we felt like we were on pretty solid legal ground. We’re not compelling anybody to do anything. What we’re doing is saying, you have a choice.”

That choice comes in questions. The university is asking people, have they been vaccinated, or do they plan to be by July 1. If not, they ask people to apply for an exemption.

“Frankly, it’s not a lot of people,” said Davidson. “You can come to MSU Denver and get vaccinated, but please get vaccinated. You can come to MSU Denver, not get vaccinated, but please wear a mask. And agree that you may be asked to quarantine if it comes down to an outbreak.”

What they don’t ask, is why.

The Colorado Health Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research group has also been considering what to do about vaccinations — what to require and what it could ask of its workers.

“If we ask too many questions about why you’re not, why you’re vaccinated or why you’re not vaccinated, that gets into sort of skating on thin ice,” said President Michelle Leuck.

They decided not to require vaccination, thinking it might be more effective to simply strongly support it.

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“We’re small enough that if we ran into legal issues we’re an organization that couldn’t afford (it).  We can let other people sort of carve that territory,” said Leuck.

Some have come to believe that HIPAA laws prohibit even asking about vaccination. But guidance out from the federal government late last year, during the Trump Administration indicated that is not the case for most employers.

“There are certain kinds of organizations, certain kinds of employers who can’t ask about it, like health care providers and insurance companies,” explained Leuck. “But employers as a general rule don’t have that provision of HIPAA apply to them.”

MSU Denver will tell those who do not get vaccinated that not only will they have to wear a mask, but will be told, “The unvaccinated part of our population may be asked to quarantine if there is an outbreak,” said Davidson.

What gets sticky is asking when someone is not vaccinated. That could be prohibited under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“That could be considered revelation of a disability or something like that … So we’ve only asked the question, are you or are you not vaccinated?” said Leuck. The Health Institute will ask to see vaccination cards.

A card that, “We all seem to have but inconveniently doesn’t fit into anyone’s wallet,” laughed Leuck.

If someone is not willing to share that, it’s unclear what she’ll do.

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“We haven’t encountered that. I’m sure it will happen.”

Alan Gionet