File photo: Chas Hundley

Oregon Governor Kate Brown will require workers in health care settings to be tested weekly for COVID-19, a rule that health care workers can avoid by becoming vaccinated. 

According to a press release from the governor’s office, Brown today directed the Oregon Health Authority to create the rule requiring COVID-19 testing. Expected to be issued this week, the rule will become effective September 30. That timeline, the governor’s office said, will allow health care workers time to become fully vaccinated. 

“The more contagious Delta variant has changed everything,” Brown said in prepared remarks. “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. “Severe illness from COVID-19 is now largely preventable, and vaccination is clearly our best defense. 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.”

Oregon’s laws prohibit employers from issuing vaccine mandates for health care employees, a law that several health care employers appeared to be sidestepping with their own individual mandates. 

Scott Palmer, director of communications for the Oregon Nurses Association, also weighed in in the same press release. 

“This is a reasonable and sensible approach which respects the individual choices of health care workers while also protecting public health,” Palmer said. “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."

"ONA is also gratified to note that Oregon’s current law provides the state the flexibility necessary to respond to public health emergencies via regulation. ONA is eager to continue our work with hospitals and community groups to encourage vaccinations through a wide range of options including free vaccine clinics, vaccine education, vaccination incentives and community outreach to improve vaccination rates and address the rampant disinformation that is creating uncertainty and fueling vaccine hesitancy. Vaccination is a critical tool to keep Oregonians healthy and safe and Governor Brown’s announcement today will help close the gap in vaccination rates for Oregon’s valuable health care workers."

The rule will apply to anyone working in health care settings that have direct or indirect contact with patients or infectious materials. 

Brown also called on employers to offer incentives to and to increase access for vaccinations, such as paid time off, an attempt to boost the state’s vaccination rate as the Delta variant of the coronavirus spreads largely through Oregon’s unvaccinated individuals, a group that includes children under 12 and those who cannot get the vaccine for medical reasons, as well as those opposed to getting a vaccine for religious, political, and other reasons.