Gov. Kate Brown has announced two new vaccination measures to address Oregon’s hospital crisis, caused by the Delta variant surge.
Brown said the measures will help keep Oregon students safe in the upcoming school year and minimize disruptions to in-person instruction.
• Oregon’s vaccination requirement for health care workers will no longer have a testing alternative. Health care workers will be required to be fully vaccinated by October 18 or six weeks after full FDA approval, whichever is later.
• All teachers, educators, support staff, and volunteers in K-12 schools will be required to be fully vaccinated by October 18 or six weeks after full FDA approval, whichever is later.
"Our kids need to be in the classroom full time, five days a week," Brown said. ""We have to do everything we can to make that happen. COVID-19 poses a threat to our kids. Our kids need to be protected and they need to be in school. That's why I am willing to take the heat for this decision."
Brown made the announcement during a Thursday, Aug. 19 media briefing.
“With over 845 Oregonians hospitalized from COVID-19 and 226 Oregonians in our ICU’s (intensive care units), our hospital and ICU beds are over 93% full,” Brown said. “Overwhelmingly, the Oregonians who are being hospitalized or who are dying from COVID-19 are unvaccinated.”
“Our hospital system is on the verge of collapse,” Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen said. “Patients are spending days in emergency rooms because critical care beds aren’t available. Patients are parked in hallways and staffing is critically short.”
Allen said more than a quarter of the adult population remains unvaccinated.
“This triple grip of the Delta variant is tightening,” Oregon State Epidemiologist Dean Sidelinger said.
St. Charles Medical Center Bend’s Chief Physician Jeff Absalon also joined the Zoom media briefing.
“I can’t overstate this,” Adsalon said. “What we are going through right now is unimaginable. We are overwhelmed and this is really a dire situation.”
Absalon said health care workers are suffering from moral injury because they are not able to care for their patients due to the surge.
Brown said the state doesn’t have enough health care professionals to treat patients.
“We are all at risk right now when our hospitals are full,” Brown said. “There may not be a hospital bed for you if you have an unexpected emergency. When ambulances have no where to go, people die from preventable deaths.”
Brown said she is deploying all available resources to help, including deploying the National Guard and nurse strike teams, establishing temporary decompression units to free up bed space and removing barriers to discharging patients who no longer require hospital-level care.
Oregon has made requests to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Biden-Harris administration, Brown said, for additional federal resources and support. Brown has formed a Hospital Care Prevention and Response group consisting of health care stakeholders to problem solve in real time and suggest new measures to aid health care workers and hospitals during the ongoing-hospital crisis.
“We cannot wait for help to come,” Brown said. “We must proactively implement solutions right now.”
Brown said additional health and safety restrictions may be needed.
“All options are on the table,” she said. “The best way to keep businesses open and families working is to get vaccinated,” she said.
Sidelinger said the pandemic isn’t confined to unvaccinated adults.
“Children are getting sick with COVID-19 in Oregon,” he said. “Pediatric cases are highest among 12 to 17 year olds.”
Oregon Education Department Director Colt Gill explained that protocols put into place last year at Oregon’s schools are an effective protection for students.
“Face coverings, social distancing and other practiced protocols are in place and we are encouraging students who are eligible to get vaccinated.
In responding to reporters questions about mandating vaccinations for eligible students, Brown said all options are on the table.
“We are exploring every possibility,” she said.
Brown, Slidelinger, Allen, Gill and Absalon all urged people who have not been vaccinated to get vaccinated.
The Oregon Education Association (OEA) President Reed Scott-Schwalbach released the following statement in part following Brown’s announcement.
“OEA believes that today’s vaccine requirement will help provide stability for our students this fall and will help improve safety in our schools and in our communities. The science on this issue is clear. Vaccines, coupled with other proven public health mitigation strategies, are the best way to ensure our schools stay open and are a safe place for students to learn and for educators to teach.
“We urge districts throughout the state to work collaboratively with educators on how this mandate is implemented at the local level and to continue efforts to maintain additional public health mitigation strategies such as the use of personal protective equipment, frequent testing, social distancing, ensuring proper ventilation and frequent disinfecting in our public schools.”
Oregon Nurses Association (ONA) President Linda Pond said the new state mandate will likely increase vaccination rates among those workers but will also put additional pressure on an already dangerous nurse staffing crisis in Oregon. Pond said some health care workers opposed to the vaccine mandates will leave the profession before accepting a mandate.
“Governor Brown’s previous rule that required weekly testing with a waiver for health care workers who show proof of vaccination was a reasonable compromise that encouraged vaccination while protecting public health,” Pond said. “We call on hospitals and health systems to focus on nurse retention and recruitment, invest in health care workers serving on the frontlines and open up a space at the decision-making table so they can hear from frontline nurses and caregivers. We must work together to protect our communities during this crisis."
Pond said the ONA believes that the COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on the deep fractures in the health care system.