SALEM, Ore. — Governor Kate Brown plans to announce a new statewide mask mandate on Wednesday, paired with a requirement that Oregon state employees be fully vaccinated soon after the COVID-19 vaccines receive full approval from the FDA.
Brown's office said that the new mandates are intended to help address the spread of the more contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 and the resulting surge in hospitalizations.
“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,” said Governor Brown. “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."
The latest viral modeling from the Oregon Health Authority and OHSU projects that, without intervention, COVID-19 hospitalization will "far exceed" Oregon's health system capacity within the next several weeks. The modeling found that Oregon could be as many as 500 staffed hospital beds short of the need by September.
"Oregon is in a difficult position because we have the fewest number of available hospital beds per capita than anywhere else in the United States. Oregon hospitals are also simultaneously experiencing severe staff burn out and workforce shortages," OHSU said in a statement. "Therefore, unless Oregonians take immediate action, there will not be an available hospital bed for many patients who need it for COVID-19 or other urgent issues like heart attacks, trauma accidents and strokes."
Governor Brown is set to hold a press conference on Wednesday to outline the new statewide indoor mask mandate. It was not immediately clear when the mandate would go into effect.
"After a year and a half of this pandemic, I know Oregonians are tired of health and safety restrictions," Brown said. "This new mask requirement will not last forever, but it is a measure that can save lives right now. It will help to protect all of us, including people who are immunocompromised, and our children under 12 who are not yet eligible to get vaccinated. Masks are a simple and effective tool that will keep our schools, businesses, and communities open.”
The vaccination requirement for Oregon executive branch employees will remain a moving target for the next few weeks. Brown's office said that employees will need to be fully vaccinated by October 18 or within six weeks after a COVID-19 vaccine receives full FDA approval, whichever is later. Currently, the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are all covered by emergency use approval and are still in the process for full approval.
The requirement will apply to all executive branch employees, including employees working for all Oregon state agencies, employees of the Oregon State Treasury and the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office, and employees of the Oregon Bureau of Labor & Industries and the Oregon Department of Justice.
Employees will be required to show proof of vaccination by the deadline, and there will not be an option for weekly testing instead of that proof — however, state and federal law provides a carve-out for those who are unvaccinated due to disability or "sincerely held religious belief."
“Vaccines are safe and effective, and they are the surest way to prevent Oregonians from ending up in intensive care units,” said Governor Brown. “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.”
The vaccination requirement does not apply to employees of Oregon’s legislative and judicial branches of government, though Governor Brown said that she is encouraging the leadership of both branches to consider a similar requirement.
This is a developing story and will be updated with more details as they emerge.