ONTARIO — Sounding the alarm over a massive spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations and the spread of the “highly contagious Delta variant,” Gov. Kate Brown said Monday that she aims to bring back the mask mandate for all indoor spaces. In addition, all state employees in the executive branch will be required to be fully vaccinated in the near future. She is also urging “all public and private employers to follow suit and require vaccination for their employees.
It is not clear yet when the statewide mask mandate will kick back in; however, Brown has planned a news conference at noon today.
The Oregon Health Authority on Monday stated that Oregon recorded the highest number of COVID-19 associated hospitalizations than it has during the course of the pandemic, which started actively being tracked in March of 2020.
The numbers are “a stark reminder that the pandemic isn’t over and that the Delta variant, which is now the dominant variant circulating in Oregon, is 2-3 times more infectious than early COVID-19 variants.
“For unvaccinated individuals, the risk of COVID-19 has literally never been greater,” said Dr. Melissa Sutton, senior health advisor for OHA on Friday.
In her news release on Monday, Brown said modeling from OHA and Oregon Health & Science University project that without new measures in place, hospitalizations will exceed Oregon’s health-system capacity in the next several weeks.
The projections indicate there may be a lack of about 500 hospital beds to treat patients for any reason by September.
Brown says the spike in COVID hospitalizations are “overwhelmingly” unvaccinated individuals, and that it is “quickly exceeding the darkest days of our winter surge.”
““When our hospitals are full, there will be no room for additional patients needing care,” she said, adding “all Oregonians will be at risk.”
Brown says the keys to saving lives are being vaccinated and wearing masks regardless of if you have been vaccinated, as evidence shows that anybody can spread the virus.
“If we all do our part, we can beat COVID-19 once and for all, keep our economy open and thriving, and return our kids to the classroom with minimal disruptions in a few weeks,” Brown said.
Her actions are meant to keep workplaces safe for employees and customers alike, the governor said.
She said masks will help keep schools, businesses and communities open.
“Masks are a simple and effective way to make sure you are not unknowingly infecting your friends, family members, neighbors, and colleagues. After a year and a half of this pandemic, I know Oregonians are tired of health and safety restrictions. This new mask requirement will not last forever, but it is a measure that can save lives right now.”
What about state employees?
As for state employee vaccine rules, there will be some exceptions for individuals with disabilities or those with “sincerely held religious belief,” as required by state and federal law. And the deadline to be fully vaccinated is tentatively Oct. 18 or six weeks after a COVID-19 vaccine receives full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, whichever is later.
Which state employees will it apply to? It does not apply to employees of Oregon’s legislative and judicial branches of government, however it is encouraged they consider such a requirement.
According to Brown’s release, a COVID-19 vaccine will be mandated for “all executive branch employees, including employees working for all Oregon state agencies, and in consultation with Oregon’s statewide elected officials, employees of the Oregon State Treasury and the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office, as well as employees of the Oregon Bureau of Labor & Industries and the Oregon Department of Justice.”
Proof will be required by the deadline and there will not be an alternative, such as weekly testing instead of showing proof.