All Oregon healthcare workers must get the COVID-19 vaccine or receive weekly COVID testing, Governor Kate Brown announced Wednesday.
Brown has directed the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) to make the new policy in order to slow the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant that is responsible for more than 90 percent of current COVID cases in Oregon. The new policy will take effect September 30—enough time for unvaccinated healthcare workers to become fully vaccinated in order to bypass the weekly testing.
“This new safety measure is necessary to stop Delta from causing severe illness among our first line of defense: our doctors, nurses, medical students, and frontline health care workers,” Brown said in a press release. “Vaccination and weekly testing ensure Oregonians can safely access health care and employees can go to work in an environment that maximizes health and safety measures for COVID-19.”
Oregon law prevents individual employers from requiring immunizations for healthcare employees, unless the vaccines are mandated by the state or federal laws. This new requirement does not mandate vaccinations, but gives individual healthcare employers a little more agency to require the vaccine. Brown hinted that she also “intends to work with stakeholders and legislators” to address the prohibitive Oregon law in the February 2022 legislative session.
Two Oregon healthcare facilities—Kaiser Permanente and PeaceHealth—issued vaccine requirements for all of their employees earlier this week. These mandates remain in conflict with the state law, but neither facility has been penalized for the policy.
Scott Palmer, a representative from the Oregon Nurses Association, praised the Governor’s decision in her press release, calling it a “reasonable and sensible approach which respects the individual choices of health care workers while also protecting public health.”
Brown is also considering vaccination and testing policies for state workers. The Governor also used the announcement to urge all private employers to consider how they could incentivize their employees to get the vaccine.
“As we have throughout this pandemic, we are learning to adapt to the new reality the Delta variant has created,” Brown said. “I am encouraging Oregon cities, counties, businesses, and employers to think creatively, and to consider measures such as paid time off for vaccination, and incentives for employees, in addition to instituting masking requirements and other health and safety measures in the workplace.”
The OHA reported 1,213 new COVID cases on Tuesday, August 3. As of Tuesday, 422 Oregonians were currently in a hospital due to the virus. Meanwhile, the state is distributing an average 4,714 doses of the vaccine per day, down from about 5,800 doses distributed daily at the beginning of July.