PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Oregon Governor Kate Brown praised vaccination efforts and health officials elaborated on booster eligibility for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in a press conference Tuesday.
Brown recognized disappointment that the state is still battling the virus and commented on the Delta variant which erased months of progress.
“Delta changed everything,” Brown said. “While we still have a long way to go, it appears things are slowly getting better.”
The governor is holding firm on the Oct. 18 vaccine requirement for health care workers to keep their jobs, suggesting the state will continue to use out of state medical staff and the national guard if needed to fill in.
Brown thanked everyone who has chosen to get vaccinated and wear a mask.
“Vaccines continue to be the key to putting this pandemic behind us,” Brown said. “Everyone who is eligible for a booster will get one.”
Health officials said people who were in Phases 1a and 1b of Oregon’s December 2020 rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine are eligible for a booster of the Pfizer vaccine if they received their vaccine at least six months ago.
They said those who are 65 years or older, those living in a long-term care facility and those ages 18 to 64 with underlying medical conditions are eligible.
People whose jobs put them at higher risk of contracting the virus — such as first responders, school staff, food industry workers, prison workers, postal workers and public transit workers — are also encouraged to get the booster.
Eligible Oregonians, which officials estimated to be 300,000 people, can arrange a booster appointment here.
Dr. Tom Jeanne, the deputy state epidemiologist, said the pandemic appears to have reached its peak in Oregon.
Jeanne praised mask-wearing, citing data that positive test result rates have decreased since the beginning of September.
He urged the public to continue mitigation efforts, like social distancing and masks, so the state can make room in hospitals for those in need.
“We cannot drop our guard and risk a resurgence that could overwhelm our health care system,” he said. “Our health care workers and resources have been severely strained for far too long.”
Jeanne spoke directly to those who have not received the vaccine.
“If you’re unvaccinated, you’ve never been more vulnerable to being sickened by the virus, passing the virus on to your loved ones, getting seriously ill or dying from COVID-19,” he said.
The Oregon Nurses Association cautioned hospital systems to take vaccination exemption requests seriously to avoid losing even one nurse within an already strained system.
“Governor Kate Brown’s August COVID-19 vaccination mandate included common sense exemptions, as most other vaccination requirements have done, for medical reasons or for deeply held religious beliefs,” ONA wrote in a statement. “Across the state, Oregon’s nurses have a high rate of vaccination (over 80%). However, it is also true that a small number of nurses have legitimate reasons for filing exemption requests. ONA believes that hospital systems must take these exemption requests seriously, as required by state and federal law. At a time when hospitals are experiencing a serious staffing shortage it is crucial that health care systems do whatever is necessary to facilitate vaccination mandates while, at the same time, provide accommodation for those nurses and other staff who have received an exemption. Losing even a single nurse from our already strained health care system will simply make a bad situation worse. For example, nurses in the labor and delivery department at Legacy Silverton Hospital report that every religious exemption request, and a number of medical exemption requests, have been denied. We are told that 18 nurses, nearly half of the nursing staff in that department, are facing termination. ONA is seeing similar reports from other Legacy Silverton Hospital units, and we are hearing deep concern from nurses at Legacy facilities (not represented by ONA) in the Portland area. Oregon’s vaccine mandate allows for medical and deeply held religious belief exemptions and blanket rejections are not only bad policy, but they also deepen staffing crises at hospitals across the state and ultimately impact quality of patient care. Now is not the time for hospital systems like Legacy to play fast and loose with the legally required vaccination exemption process. ONA continues to work with our members across the state on a case by case, and unit by unit, basis to address nurse concerns and enforce our contracts. We encourage any nurse with concerns about a rejected exemption request to contact Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries, online at https://www.oregon.gov/BOLI, to submit a complaint.”Oregon Nurses Association
Officials from the Oregon Department of Education also spoke on the threat of the virus to schools around the state.
ODE Director Colt Gill said of the more than 1,300 public and private schools in Oregon, four have closed their doors since the beginning of the school year due to COVID-19 concerns.
Gill contrasted urban and rural schools, calling for different, tailored guidance to learning centers in both settings.
But a common thread challenging many schools in the state are staffing issues brought on from unvaccinated employees, he added.
“Quarantining is one of the great challenges of this school year,” he said. “Unvaccinated staff members who are exposed to COVID-19 must quarantine. Vaccinated staff members do not need to quarantine unless they are symptomatic.”
Gill said schools can expect more guidance on how to keep students and staff safe by the beginning of October.
The press conference came as schools around the region have been already been struggling with the spread of COVID-19 amongst students and staff — despite only being back in classrooms for several weeks.
Hundreds of students at Reynolds Middle School were possibly exposed to COVID-19 last week. A school spokesperson said a person who later tested positive was in the cafeteria and exposed 200 of the school’s 1,000 students. The students were instructed to stay home and switch to online learning for Thursday and Friday before returning to school on Monday.
Earlier in the week, about 1,000 students and staff at Reynolds High School were told to quarantine. They returned to class in-person on Monday as well.
Shortly before the Reynolds outbreak, fifteen classes in the Beaverton School District were quarantined due to COVID exposure. There are a total of 113 students in the district who are either COVID positive or presumptive. Furthermore, 554 students are in quarantine.