Oregon lifts COVID-19 vaccine requirements, other health measures as federal emergency ends

Oregon is ending COVID-19 vaccine requirements for educators and health care workers and officials are no longer asking people infected with the virus to isolate for five days.

Oregon public health officials announced the changes on Wednesday, a day before the federal COVID-19 public health emergency ends.  Some of the changes start on Thursday, and others will begin later. 

Public health officials said requirements can be relaxed now because many people have immunity to COVID – about 80% of Oregon adults have received primary doses of the vaccine – and many infections are mild or asymptomatic. Here’s a look at the changes:

Vaccinations: Starting Thursday, health care workers will no longer need to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

For teachers and staff in public and private schools, the vaccination requirement will end on June 17 to coincide with the end of the school year.

Oregon public health officials recommend that people with COVID-19 stay home until they are fever-free for 24 hours and their symptoms are improving. That’s a shift from the previous five-day isolation recommendation, which officials said was doing little to reduce the spread of the virus.

Those with COVID-19 also should avoid contact with people who have an increased risk of serious illness, including older adults and people with underlying medical conditions and weakened immune systems. Officials encourage people to consider masking up for 10 days while they’re infected to protect others.

“We feel that this is the best response and evolution to our guidance as we enter this phase of the pandemic,” Dean Sidelinger, state epidemiologist at the Oregon Health Authority, said during a news conference.

Schools: The state is ending voluntary weekly COVID-19 testing for students and staff in K-12 schools without  symptoms on July 31 when  federal funding for the program ends.

Tests for students and staff with symptoms or those who’ve been exposed  to COVID-19 will remain available until July 31, 2024.

Insurance: The federal government is ending extra Medicaid benefits which kept  everyone enrolled in the free program, including in Oregon, regardless of a change in income. Now states need to review everyone’s information to ensure they still qualify. Oregon officials, who started that work in April, say up to 300,000 people could lose coverage for medical, dental and behavioral health care. 

State officials are encouraging participants to keep their contact information up to date and to respond promptly to requests from the state. “It’s our job to make it as simple as possible,” said Vivian Levy, interim deputy Medicaid director for the Oregon Health Authority. “It’s our job to only ask for the information that we absolutely need to be able to determine eligibility.” 

COVID-19 reporting: Oregon is no longer monitoring COVID-19 based on individual cases. Instead, the state will keep tabs on the spread of COVID-19 by analyzing the percentage of positive tests, the presence of the virus in wastewater samples, deaths and hospitalizations.

“Our focus will continue to be on serious disease,” Sidelinger said.

Some of the COVID-19-related activities and programs will continue. Non-citizens will still have an extra 90 days – or 180 days in all – to verify their residential status so they can enroll in the Oregon Health Plan. The state will require commercial health insurers and Oregon Health Plan providers to continue to provide COVID-19 vaccinations without a fee for patients.

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Ben Botkin - Oregon Capital Chronicle

Ben Botkin covers justice, health and social services issues for the Oregon Capital Chronicle. He has been a reporter since 2003, when he drove from his Midwest locale to Idaho for his first journalism job. He has written extensively about politics and state agencies in Idaho, Nevada and Oregon. Most recently, he covered health care and the Oregon Legislature for The Lund Report. Botkin has won multiple journalism awards for his investigative and enterprise reporting, including on education, state budgets and criminal justice.