With health officials projecting record hospitalizations from the Delta variant of COVID-19, Gov. Kate Brown on Aug. 10 said she would mandate vaccinations for all state employees and require mask wearing indoors.
The vaccine requirement will cover employees of all state agencies—including those working for the State Treasury, the Bureau of Labor and Industries, and the Department of Justice, which are run by other elected officials.
Her order follows a similar vaccine mandate announced this week by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.
Multnomah County announced a mask mandate on Aug. 9, and Brown says she followed suit after seeing projections that the state could see a shortfall of 500 staffed hospital beds 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 in a statement. “If our hospitals run out of staffed beds, all Oregonians will be at risk.”
Oregon’s seven-day new case average is now above 1,000, a figure not seen since January.
Those who may qualify for an exemption are “individuals unable to be vaccinated due to disability or sincerely held religious belief.” Employees with the judicial and legislative branches will not be subject to the requirement.
Update, 5:49 pm: Service Employees International Union 503 president Melissa Unger says the union has issued a demand to bargain over the vaccine mandate for state employees.
“At the negotiating table, we will ensure that working people have a voice in this process and that vaccines are truly accessible.” she said. “We will fight for paid time off to take the vaccine and recover, exemptions for people with a documented reason for not taking the vaccine, and a seat at the table to ensure that all working people on the job are respected, protected, and paid fairly as we continue to fight COVID-19.”
Meanwhile, Oregon House Minority Leader Christine Drazan (R-Canby) decried the mandate. “I trust Oregonians even if the governor doesn’t,” Drazan said. “She shouldn’t be trying to control every aspect of their lives with mask and vaccine mandates.”
Both Unger and Drazan are said to be mulling their own bids for governor in 2022.