Dr. Katherine Landen, emergency department medical director at Salem Hospital, displays her employee badge after receiving Salem's first Covid vaccine on Dec. 17, 2020 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)
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Nearly all K-12 school employees, parent volunteers and health care workers in Oregon must be fully vaccinated against Covid by Oct. 18, according to rules issued Wednesday by the Oregon Health Authority, and employers that don’t comply can be fined up to $500 per day.
Individual school districts and health care employers can also choose to implement the requirement sooner or impose stricter mandates like requiring booster doses of Covid vaccine, the rules said.
The agency’s rules provide more detail on the Covid vaccination mandates Gov. Kate Brown announced on Aug. 19.
The governor said the measures were needed to curb the rapid spread of the delta variant of the virus and allow schools to remain open for in-person classes. She also said allowing health care workers be tested for Covid regularly if they chose not to get vaccinated was no longer practical.
“There are simply not enough resources to stand up weekly testing systems, while also responding to the current crisis,” she said in an Aug. 19 news conference.
The state rules issued this week spell out who’s covered under the two mandates and provided more detail about medical and religious exemptions available.
The rules have garnered pushback from some educators and health care workers and employers, particularly in rural Oregon, where local officials have warned they’ll lead to staffing shortages because many employees will quit rather than get a vaccine.
The school rule covers any employee or volunteer of a program that takes place inside a K-12 school, whether it’s public or private. That means teachers and classroom aides, as well as bus drivers, janitors, coaches and child care staff.
It also covers contractors and other workers paid to provide services inside schools, like food service workers in the Salem-Keizer School District who are typically employed by food service provider Sodexo.
Parent and community volunteers are also covered, but the rule doesn’t apply to people who are only briefly inside schools, like delivery drivers or visitors, or employees who don’t have contact with children.
The rules apply to employees or volunteers with extracurricular or after school programs that take place at school facilities.
School board directors are not required to be vaccinated, the rule said, unless they also volunteer inside a school. Neither are employees or volunteers of stand-alone preschool or child care programs.
And the rule won’t apply to programs where employees have no physical contact with students, like entirely online school programs.
The Oregon Education Association, the state’s largest teacher union, previously indicated its support for the mandate.
The health care vaccination mandate applies to all health care workers in the state licensed by state regulatory boards, including doctors, nurses, dentists, chiropractors, emergency medical service workers and respiratory therapists.
It also applies to other students, workers and volunteers in health care settings, like receptionists at medical offices and hospital cleaners.
“Healthcare personnel includes individuals, paid and unpaid working, learning, studying, assisting, observing or volunteering in a healthcare setting providing direct patient or resident care or who have the potential for direct or indirect exposure to patients, residents, or infectious materials,” the rule says.
In response to the rule, the Oregon Nurses Association urged its members to get vaccinated and focus on advocating for safe staffing in the workplace.
“ONA calls upon all nurses to get vaccinated before the October 18th deadline or, alternatively, fill out the necessary paperwork for a medical or deeply held religious belief exemption. Failure to do so may result in the termination of unvaccinated nurses at a time when Oregon faces an unprecedented staffing crisis,” the association’s board of directors said in a statement. “Our patients and our communities need you at the bedside, now more than ever before. The science is clear: vaccinations are safe and effective, and nurses and other health care workers who are vaccinated are acting in line with our ethical, clinical, and professional responsibilities to our patients.”
Both mandates allow for medical and religious exemptions. Medical exemptions must be signed by a provider other than the person seeking an exemption and certify “that the individual has a physical or mental impairment that limits the individual’s ability to receive a COVID-19 vaccination based on a specified medical diagnosis, and that specifies whether the impairment is temporary in nature or permanent,” the rules say.
People seeking religious exemption must submit a form issued by the Oregon Health Authority “describing the way in which the vaccination requirement conflicts with the religious observance, practice, or belief of the individual.”
Employers must keep records of employee proof of vaccination or exemptions and provide them to the health authority on request.
Read the full text of both rules below:
Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.
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