A healthcare worker vaccinating a county employeee
Multnomah County employees must get vaccinated, or lose their job. Motoya Nakamura / Multnomah County

All Multnomah County employees will be required to get a COVID-19 vaccination, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury announced Friday. Multnomah County is the first county in Oregon with an employee vaccine mandate.

The new requirement is part of the county and state’s two-part effort to respond to Oregon’s latest surge of COVID cases by requiring masks indoors and increasing vaccination rates. The majority of the state’s recent COVID cases and hospitalizations are unvaccinated people who are getting sick from the highly contagious—and more severe—Delta variant.

“As the largest local safety net provider in the state, we need to assure our workforce is able to show up and safely serve the people of this community,” Kafoury said in a press release. “With a fully vaccinated workforce, we can better protect ourselves, our co-workers, our clients, and our community.”

Some medical and religious exemptions to the county’s mandate are available, but if county employees choose to not get vaccinated without an approved exemption they will be laid off. The county employs over 6,000 people.

Multnomah County will require proof of vaccination by October 18 or six weeks after the US Federal Drug Administration (FDA) fully approves COVID vaccines, whichever date comes later. The FDA has approved all of the COVID vaccines for emergency use, but has yet to fully approve the vaccines. That is the same timeline Governor Kate Brown set earlier this week when she mandated vaccinations for all K-12 staff and healthcare workers. Brown has also required vaccinations for all executive branch state employees.

The City of Portland has not made any vaccination requirements for city employees.

Oregon’s “fifth wave” of COVID is currently straining the state’s healthcare system, with hospital beds and ICU beds operating close to full capacity throughout the state. The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) predicts the state will exceed hospital bed capacity in early September by up to 500 COVID patients. Some facilities are already seeing capacity strains. On Wednesday, OPB reported that a patient sick with COVID died while waiting for an ICU bed at a Roseburg hospital.

Brown has called in the National Guard to assist hospitals and is requesting a field hospital from the federal government to take on the surge of patients.