Oregon will require all educators, school staff and volunteers, as well as health care workers, to be vaccinated for Covid-19, Governor Kate Brown announced in a press conference Thursday.
“The delta variant has put enormous pressure on our health systems, and health care workers are being stretched to their absolute limits providing life-saving treatment for the patients in their care,” said Brown.
“I am devoting all available resources to help, and we must proactively implement solutions right now. We need every single frontline health care worker healthy and available to treat patients.”
The move marks a walking-back of her previous statements that local superintendents and school boards would be able to decide whether to require vaccines for their staff, and a reversal of the policy she announced just two weeks ago, in which health care workers would have the option of vaccination or weekly testing.
The mandate comes one day after Portland Public Schools, Oregon’s largest district, announced all of its educators must be vaccinated by Sept. 1, and Washington Governor Jay Inslee unveiled a similar mandate for his state’s school and university employees.
Oregon’s mandate requires teachers, school staff and health care workers to be immunized by Oct. 18 — or six weeks after the Federal Drug Administration approves the shots — whichever comes later.
Brown positioned the new mandate as the best way to protect students — particularly those under 12 who cannot yet be vaccinated themselves — and ensure schools can remain open for in-person learning this fall.
“Our kids need to be in the classroom full-time, five days a week, and we have to do everything we can to make that happen,” said Brown. “While we are still learning about the delta variant, we know from previous experience that when schools open with safety measures in place, the risk of transmission is low.”
Full FDA approval for the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech — the first jab to be OK’d for emergency use in the United States and Oregon last December — is expected as early as next week.
Public health officials have been sounding the alarm for weeks as the highly transmissible delta variant ravages parts of the state with low vaccination rates, flooding Oregon’s hospitals with severely ill patients.
On Tuesday, Oregon set a new daily record for case counts at 2,941. The state reported 838 hospitalizations that day and OHSU researchers expect Oregon will reach 1,100 by Sept. 3.
Weeks ago, in mid-July, Oregon averaged about 150 new cases per day as state residents 12 and over became fully immunized against Covid-19. The vaccines became widely available in mid-May.
Clackamas County saw 877 new infections of Covid-19 in the week ending Monday, a rate of 205 cases per 100,000 — nearly four times the level of mid-July.
New cases, hospitalizations and deaths have been disproportionately slanted toward the vaccinated by a vast degree, health officials say. More than 82% of Clackamas Countians diagnosed with Covid-19 in the past week were not fully vaccinated.
Meanwhile, Republicans are pushing back on the governor’s latest mandates, including Rep. David Brock Smith, of Port Orford, who released a statement this week disclosing that he had contracted the virus despite being fully vaccinated.
“Covid is here to stay,” he said. “I and my family are vaccinated by choice. I have and continue to encourage Oregonians to be vaccinated against Covid. I and thousands of others like me are proof however that you can still contract and spread Covid even if vaccinated. Forcing vaccines on Oregonians is wrong.
“Forcing vaccines on Oregonians based on their profession is worse. These actions are none other than a symptom of Oregonians lack of trust in their Governor, her leadership and the rollercoaster of agency mandates over the last year and a half of ’14 days to flatten the curve.'”
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