SALEM, Ore. — Governor Kate Brown announced Wednesday that she's directed the Oregon Health Authority to enact a new rule requiring healthcare workers to get tested regularly if they do not provide proof of vaccination.
The proposed rule would require that staff in healthcare settings undergo weekly coronavirus testing, which can be waived with proof of vaccination. Brown's office said that the rule will be issued later this week, but the requirement will not go into effect until September 30 — giving employers time to adjust to the policy and giving "currently unvaccinated healthcare workers time to become fully vaccinated."
“The more contagious Delta variant has changed everything. 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,” said Governor Brown.
Brown's office said that the new rule applies broadly to staff in healthcare settings, whether their contact with patients or infectious materials is direct or indirect. California has implemented vaccination and testing requirements for state workers, and Brown's office said that they are looking at similar measures.
“Severe illness from COVID-19 is now largely preventable, and vaccination is clearly our best defense," Brown continued. "Vaccination and weekly testing ensure Oregonians can safely access health care and employees can go to work in an environment that maximizes health and safety measures for COVID-19.”
The announcement received immediate support from both the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems and the Oregon Nurses Association.
"This is a reasonable and sensible approach which respects the individual choices of health care workers while also protecting public health," said Scott Palmer of the Oregon Nurses Association. "ONA believes COVID-19 vaccinations are critical to protecting our members, our patients, our families and our communities and we urge all Oregonians who can get vaccinated to do so now."
Oregon state law currently prohibits employers in the healthcare field from mandating vaccinations for their workers, but Brown's office said that they intend to work with lawmakers and other stakeholders to "address this issue" for the February 2022 legislative session — a change for which Becky Hultberg, president and CEO of OAHHS, has expressed support.
In the meantime, Brown asked both public and private employers to find other ways to encourage vaccination against COVID-19.
“As we have throughout this pandemic, we are learning to adapt to the new reality the Delta variant has created," Brown said. "I am encouraging Oregon cities, counties, businesses, and employers to think creatively, and to implement measures such as paid time off for vaccination, and incentives for employees, in addition to instituting masking requirements and other health and safety measures in the workplace. I am doing the same with the State of Oregon’s workforce, and I expect employers to find ways to remove barriers to easy access to vaccination.”