PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — As Oregon surpassed its COVID-19 hospitalization record on Tuesday, Gov. Kate Brown announced that she is issuing two new coronavirus-related mandates — a vaccination requirement for state employees and statewide indoor mask requirements.
The details about statewide mask requirement will be outlined during a news conference Wednesday.
“After a year and a half of this pandemic, I know Oregonians are tired of health and safety restrictions,” Brown said in a news release Tuesday. “This new mask requirement will not last forever, but it is a measure that can save lives right now.”
In addition, state employees will be required to be fully vaccinated on or before Oct. 18 or six weeks after a “COVID-19 vaccine receives full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration”, whichever is later.
State employees will be required to show proof of vaccination. Weekly testing will not be an option for those who want to avoid vaccination and the only opt-out of the requirement is either a medical or religious exemption.
Brown’s mandate applies to the employees of state agencies that are part of the governor’s executive branch, which includes the State Treasury, the Secretary of State’s Office, the state’s Bureau of Labor & Industries and the Oregon Department of Justice. The requirement does not apply to employees of Oregon’s legislative and judicial branches, although Brown is urging the leadership of both branches to consider a similar requirement.
“Vaccines are safe and effective, and they are the surest way to prevent Oregonians from ending up in intensive care units,” Brown said on Tuesday. “I am taking action to help ensure State of Oregon workplaces are safe for employees and customers alike, and I am strongly encouraging all public and private employers to follow suit by requiring vaccination for their employees. The only way we can stop the spread of COVID-19 for good is through vaccination.”
Brown’s decision to implement new health and safety measures comes as Oregon physicians and nurses say they are overwhelmed and that hospital space is severely limited as more and more people need care because of COVID-19.
On Tuesday, 635 people were hospitalized in Oregon because of COVID-19, surpassing the state’s previous record of 622 people hospitalized during November’s surge when vaccine doses were not yet available.
New modeling from the Oregon Health Authority and Oregon Health & Science University projects that, without new health and safety interventions in place, COVID-19 hospitalizations will far exceed Oregon’s health system capacity in the next several weeks. Based on the modeling, without additional mitigation measures, Oregon could be 500 staffed hospital beds short of what will be needed to treat patients hospitalized for any reason 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. “When our hospitals are full, there will be no room for additional patients needing care — whether for COVID-19, a heart attack or stroke, a car collision, or a variety of other emergency situations. If our hospitals run out of staffed beds, all Oregonians will be at risk.”
Sara Cline is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.