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Gov. Kate Brown Will Require Unvaccinated Health Care Workers to Be Tested Weekly

The rule will not preempt a state law that grants health care workers an exception from vaccine mandates.

Gov. Kate Brown on Wednesday issued a new requirement that health care workers who are not vaccinated submit to at least weekly testing for COVID-19.

“The more contagious Delta variant has changed everything,” says Brown in a statement. “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. Protecting our frontline health care workers through vaccination will also enhance the safety of the patients in their care.”

While the statement conveyed urgency, Brown elected not to pursue more aggressive approaches. Brown did not elect to issue a state rule that could preempt a 1989 law that bars employers from mandating vaccination of health care workers.

“We worked in close consultation with health care providers and other stakeholders in the development of this rule,” says Brown spokesman Charles Boyle. “Before full FDA approval, it is essential to offer an alternative to requiring vaccination. We are also strongly encouraging health care and other employers to remove barriers to access to vaccination, such as providing paid time off for vaccination.”

Full approval is expected next month, and Boyle adds that the governor “will reevaluate at that point.”

The press release from the governor’s office also says that Brown plans to work on the issue for the February 2022 short session, setting up a legislative fight potentially on whether there should be an exemption from all the vaccines, not just COVID-19.

The governor’s office also says it does not believe anything prevented hospitals (and other health care employers) from enacting a weekly COVID testing rule, but it will be required now.

The requirement will go into place Sept. 30.

It echoes what other jurisdictions—California, New York City and Nevada—have implemented for all public employees: a vaccine or weekly testing requirement for COVID-19. Brown has not done so. The governor’s office says discussion on a requirement for state workers are underway.

The Oregon Nurses Association, which has opposed efforts to change the law exempting health care workers from the mandate, praised Brown as taking a “reasonable and sensible approach.”

“This is a reasonable and sensible approach which respects the individual choices of health care workers while also protecting public health,” says Scott Palmer of the Oregon Nurses Association in a statement included in the governor’s announcement. “ONA is also gratified to note that Oregon’s current law provides the state the flexibility necessary to respond to public health emergencies via regulation.”

Proponents of allowing health care employers to mandate vaccines also praised Brown’s announcement.

“We support today’s action by Governor Brown, which will require health care workers in Oregon to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or be tested regularly for the virus,” says Becky Hultberg, president and CEO of the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, in a statement. “With these additional tools we can better respond to this evolving pandemic and provide the safest possible environment for those who depend on us.”

Officials with the Oregon Health Care Association, the industry group for nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, said they supported the governor’s announcement and their industry is redoubling efforts to get workers vaccinated.

“Everyone who can be vaccinated should be vaccinated,” said Linda Kirschbaum, senior vice president of Quality Services at OHCA. “Continued, proactive efforts to increase vaccination rates are the only path forward to fully emerge from the pandemic and protect the health of Oregonians. It is imperative that our caregivers, who are providing care and support to those most vulnerable to COVID-19, as well as other health providers around the state are vaccinated.”