Denver City Councilwoman Jamie Torres recalls a pivotal moment in her COVID-19 outreach, when she helped a car of four generations of Latinx women at a community vaccine clinic understand the importance of the vaccine. The women, who were skeptical due to misconceptions about the vaccine’s impact on fertility, trusted Torres, who took the time to carefully walk them through the process and answer their questions.
Torres was among government representatives and leaders in higher education, public health and the local community at a March 25 roundtable discussion, hosted by Chancellor Michelle Marks at a conference room on the second floor of CU Denver’s Learning Commons. Marks welcomed U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Gov. Jared Polis to the discussion on “Whole Health/A Community Response to COVID.”
National and regional attendees included Health & Human Services Regional Director Lily Griego; Chief Operating Officer for the Auraria Higher Education Center Robert Byers; and Colorado Community College System Chancellor Joe Garcia. CU Denver representatives included Regent Nolbert Chavez; Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Antonio Farias; Special Assistant to the Chancellor for COVID-19/Managing University Counsel Chris Puckett; and Student Government Association President Chris Hilton.
Marks kicked off the conversation by emphasizing the importance of the topic and how it fits into CU Denver’s larger missions of equity, collaboration, commitment to community, and public health. “This event is not just an opportunity for us to reflect on what we’ve learned over the past couple of years,” Marks said. “It’s a way for us to focus on how we can bring these lessons forward, to better serve our citizens and communities.”
Over the past two years, CU Denver and the Auraria campus have played a critical role in the region’s COVID response by helping to host vaccine clinics in communities across the Denver metro area, including those with a higher population of people of color who were among the hardest hit by COVID, and transforming campus’ 5th Street Garage into a free vaccine and testing site, open to everyone. CU Denver has worked with the city, state, and federal government to secure funds for these efforts and for students experiencing hardship with food availability, mental health services, technology needs, and more.
“At the height of our clinic, we were vaccinating 1,000 people per day,” said Marks, adding, “University leaders didn’t just have to run universities during the pandemic. We also had to lead in educating and supporting public health.”
Polis and Becerra commended the work of CU Denver and the community, and emphasized the need to carry the lessons learned through the pandemic on disparities in access into the future, and to continue “building muscle” in public health responses. Among the lessons learned are the need among all populations for trust in local, state and federal government, in language access, and in community-government collaboration and partnerships. “I would love to help you build more muscle, because we are all going to need it,” Becerra said to those in attendance.