Oregon Gov. Kate Brown is issuing two new health and safety measures to address the spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations being driven by the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant: a vaccination requirement for state employees and statewide indoor mask requirements.

The new requirements follow a sharp rise in the COVID-19 cases and deaths. The Oregon Health Authority reported 2,329 new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases, including six cases in Columbia County, and 9 new deaths statewide on Tuesday, Aug. 10.

New Face Mask Requirement

Gov. Brown says vaccinated and unvaccinated people will be required to wear face coverings in indoor settings.

"This new mask requirement will not last forever, but it is a measure that can save lives right now," Brown said.

New modeling from the Oregon Health Authority and Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) projects that, without new health and safety interventions in place, COVID-19 hospitalizations will far exceed Oregon’s health system capacity in the next several weeks.

According to modeling from OHSU, without these additional mitigation measures, Oregon could be as many as 500 staffed hospital beds short of what will be needed to treat patients hospitalized for any reason by September.

“Oregon is facing a spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations - consisting overwhelmingly of unvaccinated individuals - that is quickly exceeding the darkest days of our winter surge,” Brown said. “When our hospitals are full, there will be no room for additional patients needing care - whether for COVID-19, a heart attack or stroke, a car collision, or a variety of other emergency situations. If our hospitals run out of staffed beds, all Oregonians will be at risk.

“There are two keys to saving lives. Vaccination is the best way to protect yourself and your family against severe illness, hospitalization, and death. And, by wearing masks, all of us - vaccinated and unvaccinated - can help ensure that a hospital bed staffed by health professionals is available for our loved ones in their time of need. If we all do our part, we can beat COVID-19 once and for all, keep our economy open and thriving, and return our kids to the classroom with minimal disruptions in a few weeks.”

All State of Oregon executive branch employees required to be fully vaccinated

Brown announced that all State of Oregon executive branch employees will be required to be fully vaccinated on or before October 18, or six weeks after a COVID-19 vaccine receives full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, whichever is later.

The requirement will apply to all executive branch employees, including employees working for all Oregon state agencies, and in consultation with Oregon’s statewide elected officials, employees of the Oregon State Treasury and the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office, as well as employees of the Oregon Bureau of Labor & Industries and the Oregon Department of Justice. Employees will be required to show proof of vaccination by the deadline.

Individuals unable to be vaccinated due to disability or sincerely held religious belief may be able to qualify for an exception, as required by state and federal law. State of Oregon employees will not have the option of weekly testing instead of showing proof of vaccination.

“Vaccines are safe and effective, and they are the surest way to prevent Oregonians from ending up in intensive care units,” Brown said. “I am taking action to help ensure State of Oregon workplaces are safe for employees and customers alike, and I am strongly encouraging all public and private employers to follow suit by requiring vaccination for their employees. The only way we can stop the spread of COVID-19 for good is through vaccination.”

The vaccination requirement does not apply to employees of Oregon’s legislative and judicial branches of government, though the Governor is encouraging the leadership of both branches to consider a similar requirement.

New statewide indoor mask requirements

Brown will conduct a press conference Aug. 11, to announce new statewide indoor mask requirements.

Brown said the latest science is clear: although unvaccinated individuals are more likely to contract the disease, both vaccinated and unvaccinated people can spread the Delta variant.

"Masks are a simple and effective way to make sure you are not unknowingly infecting your friends, family members, neighbors, and colleagues," she said. "After a year and a half of this pandemic, I know Oregonians are tired of health and safety restrictions. This new mask requirement will not last forever, but it is a measure that can save lives right now. It will help to protect all of us, including people who are immunocompromised, and our children under 12 who are not yet eligible to get vaccinated. Masks are a simple and effective tool that will keep our schools, businesses, and communities open.”

Follow this developing story here online and in the Wednesday print editions of The Chronicle.

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