SALEM, Ore — Following Governor Kate Brown’s announcement of new vaccine rules for health care workers, hospitals across the state are sounding the alarm about the rise in covid cases.
Starting September 30th, health care workers will have to show proof of their vaccination status, or take covid-19 tests weekly.
“The rise of the more contagious Delta variant has changed everything,” Governor Brown said in a video statement Wednesday. “This new safety measure is necessary to stop Delta [variant] from causing severe illness amongst our first line of defense.”
The Oregon Nurses Association supported the decision, despite previously being against requiring vaccinations for health care workers.
“This is a reasonable and sensible approach which respects the individual choices of health care workers while also protecting public health,” The Association said in a press release. “Oregonians and Oregon’s nurses have sacrificed too much and come too far to suffer another wave of COVID-19.”
On Tuesday, the state reported 1,575 new cases – the most reported in a single day since January. Jackson County has accounted for the majority of the surge, leading the state four times in daily new cases over the past week.
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“Gov. Brown’s direction [Wednesday] is a welcome step. Recognizing that health care must continue to lead by example, several weeks ago Providence notified all caregivers and providers that they are required to validate vaccination or sign a statement declining the vaccine, with a deadline of Sept. 30.” Providence said in a release.
The percentage of southern Oregon health care workers is among the lowest in the state. About 64% in Jackson county and 62% of health care workers in Klamath county are vaccinated. However, Josephine and Douglas counties are at 54%, and Lake County is just below half of the eligible health care workers that are vaccinated.
Valley Immediate Care CEO Brent Kell, agrees with the move but sees potential challenges with funding and the testing capabilities during a surge.
“I do understand the sentiment, if enough of us health care workers go down and we’re in the middle of a surge, who’s going to take care of those sick patients?” Kell told NBC5. “Hundreds of health care workers are unvaccinated and making them test once a week, is going to further burden our testing capabilities.”
Kell says appointments for testing at Valley Immediate Care’s facilities are booked up over the next week. He says it averaged about 150-250 tests per day during the winter. The number dropped to less than 50 a day when the state fully reopened on June 30th. Kell says it’s now back up to 200.
“I hope that this winter, is not going to be as bad as last winter,” Kell said. “I don’t think it’s going to be as bad, but covid is still going to be with us through this winter at least.”
State law prohibits employers from independently mandating vaccines for certain workers, including people in health care. Governor Brown says she intends to address the rule during next year’s legislative session.