Governor Kate Brown has directed the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) to issue a rule outlining new, required health and safety measures for personnel in-health care settings.
The rule requires weekly COVID-19 testing for personnel in health care settings to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in health care settings, which can be waived with a proof of vaccination. The new rule will be issued this week and the requirement to be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing will apply starting September 30th. Brown said this will give employers time to prepare for implementation, and will give currently unvaccinated health care workers time to become fully vaccinated.
Brown said the more contagious Delta variant has changed everything.
"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," she said. "Protecting our frontline health care workers through vaccination will also enhance the safety of the patients in their care.
According to Brown and state health officials, severe illness from COVID-19 is now largely preventable, and vaccination is clearly the best defense.
"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,” Brown said.
Scott Palmer of the Oregon Nurses Association (ONA) said Brown's directive is a reasonable and sensible approach which respects the individual choices of health care workers while also protecting public health.
"ONA believes COVID-19 vaccinations are critical to protecting our members, our patients, our families and our communities and we urge all Oregonians who can get vaccinated to do so now," Palmer said. "ONA is also gratified to note that Oregon’s current law provides the state the flexibility necessary to respond to public health emergencies via regulation."
Palmer said ONA is eager to continue its work with hospitals and community groups to encourage vaccinations through a wide range of options including free vaccine clinics, vaccine education, vaccination incentives and community outreach to improve vaccination rates and address the rampant disinformation that is creating uncertainty and fueling vaccine hesitancy.
"Vaccination is a critical tool to keep Oregonians healthy and safe and Governor Brown’s announcement today will help close the gap in vaccination rates for Oregon’s valuable health care workers," Palmer said.
Becky Hultberg, President and CEO of the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, released the following statement about the new rule.
“Throughout the pandemic, Oregon’s hospitals have been committed to safeguarding the health of our patients, visitors and workers," Hultberg said. "We support today’s action by Governor Brown, which will require health care workers in Oregon to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or be tested regularly for the virus. With these additional tools we can better respond to this evolving pandemic and provide the safest possible environment for those who depend on us.”
Brown said the new rule applies to personnel in health care settings who have direct or indirect contact with patients or infectious materials and that her office continues to look at additional health and safety options to protect Oregonians against the highly contagious Delta variant, including vaccination and testing policies for state workers, with conversations continuing with stakeholders about how similar protective measures can be implemented in various state workplaces.
Brown called on other public and private employers in Oregon to consider measures to facilitate their employees’ access to vaccines.
“As we have throughout this pandemic, we are learning to adapt to the new reality the Delta variant has created," she 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. I am doing the same with the State of Oregon’s workforce, as we look for ways to remove barriers to easy access to vaccination.”
State law currently prohibits employers from independently mandating vaccines for certain limited categories of workers, including health care workers, an issue the Governor intends to work with stakeholders and legislators to address in the February 2022 session.