Oregon Health Care Workers Face Choice: Vaccination or Weekly Testing

To vax, or not to vax, that is the question now facing Oregon health care workers, after Governor Kate Brown announced new rules requiring weekly Covid-19 testing — which can be waived if a worker is vaccinated and willing to show proof to their employer.

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the swabs and arrows of outrageous fortune — OK, I’m done.

The new rules take effect on Sept. 30, officials say, to give workplaces time to prepare for increased testing and unvaccinated employees time to get their shots — if they choose to.

The policy is generally viewed — positively or negatively, depending on one’s perspective — as a creative potential workaround to a 32-year-old state law that prohibits health care facilities from mandating vaccines (any vaccine) for their workers.

Only Oregon has such a law on the books. Brown has vowed to push lawmakers to address the issue in February’s legislative session.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs — which is the nation’s largest health care provider — announced last month that it would require about 115,000 of its front-line health care workers to take the Covid-19 vaccine, while California became the first state to mandate it for most health care workers just this week.

“The more contagious delta variant has changed everything,” the governor said in her announcement this week. “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.”

Brown said the new policy — which applies to personnel who have direct or indirect contact with sick people or infectious materials — will also enhance safety and improve outcomes for patients.

“Severe illness from Covid-19 is now largely preventable, and vaccination is clearly our best defense,” she said. “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.”

The new rule also has the support of industry groups like the Oregon Nurses Association.

“This is a reasonable and sensible approach which respects the individual choices of health care workers while also protecting public health,” said ONA spokesman Scott Palmer. “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 his organization has been working with hospitals and community groups to “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.

Barely a month after appearing to have turned a corner, the state is grappling with not only a resurgence — but one of the largest increases in new cases and hospitalizations since the pandemic first hit Oregon in March 2020.

Oregon reported 2,056 confirmed and presumptive cases on Monday — the highest single-day total since Dec. 4 — and more than 1,000 new infections every day this week with exception of Friday (970).

Health officials say the surge has been driven by the highly contagious delta variant — now the dominant variant in the state of Oregon — and has been disproportionately harmful to the unvaccinated, which account for 81% of new cases, 93% of hospitalizations and 99% of deaths.

The data continues to suggest that, while all forms of Covid-19 can still infect vaccinated individuals — it happens less often and tends to result in far less severe cases.

Help us build a sustainable news organization to serve Canby for generations to come! Let us know if you can support our efforts to expand our operations and keep all of our content paywall-free. #SwimWithTheCurrent!