PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Malheur County’s judge and two commissioners signed a resolution Wednesday declaring a local state of emergency and asking Oregon Gov. Kate Brown to withdraw her mandate requiring vaccines for state and health care workers in the county.
Judge Dan Joyce told KOIN 6 News first responders are choosing to quit their jobs rather than get the vaccine.
“I think that vaccination rates are about as high as they’re going to get, voluntarily,” he said. “There’s been a ton of opportunity to get vaccinated if people wanted it.”
Joyce said he’s heard ambulance services, jails, and the sheriff’s office will all face staffing shortages due to the mandate and that their employees refuse to get vaccinated before the state’s deadlines.
“We will not have any services between Ontario and McDermott, which is about a 200-mile stretch, and the Baker County people tell us we won’t have any services between Baker and Ontario, which is roughly 75 miles,” he said.
The state law ORS 401.309 allows a city or county to declare a state of emergency in order to prevent, minimize or respond to an emergency. Joyce said he feels the resolution is the best way to save lives right now.
He said if people quit their emergency services jobs right now, the employers won’t have enough applicants to fill the positions because not many people aren’t interested in applying for jobs where a COVID-19 vaccine is required.
“Normally we would have about 100 people apply for these jobs, but nobody’s going to apply for the job with the mandates there, and they’re not vaccinated,” he said.
Joyce said he’s not against the vaccine but thinks everyone should be able to make their own choice on whether to get it.
In a statement to KOIN 6 News, Gov. Brown’s office said it will not change course with its mandate.
Charles Boyle, the governor’s deputy communications director, issued a statement in response to the Malheur resolution that said, in part, “Unvaccinated people in the workplace put themselves and everyone around them at risk for COVID-19… Vaccination is the key to putting this pandemic behind us.”
Oregon Health Authority reported 41 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 in Malheur County on Sept. 22, 2021. In the last seven days, the county has had an average of 679 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people. That makes it the county with the fourth-highest number of cases per capita in the state.