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The 'state has tied our hands,' says Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury.

FILE - Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell wears a face mask during a press conference earlier this year. Multnomah County and the city of Portland say they can't require sheriff's deputies or police officers to get the shot protecting against the novel coronavirus.

Leaders for the jurisdictions pinned the blame on updated guidance from the Oregon Health Authority.

"The state has tied our hands," said Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury. "We have asked — and are still asking — the state to require these vaccinations. We are not giving up."

"I am disappointed that we can't hold all of our city employees to the same vaccine requirement," Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler told told The Oregonian. "I still am strongly encouraging police officers to get vaccinated."

COURTESY - Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese sports a face mask in his Twitter profile picture. Roughly 600 out of Portland Police Bureau's 795 sworn officers are vaccinated against COVID-19, according to KGW — a 75% rate that's 10 points above the statewide average. The Sheriff's Office tells Pamplin Media at least 72% of its employees were vaccinated at county health clinics, though the actual percentage is likely higher since other MCSO workers may have been vaccinated by their primary care physicians.

"Vaccinations are the best way to end the pandemic, protect members' health and the safety of the community we serve," Sheriff Mike Reese said in a statement.

President Joe Biden announced Sept. 9 that the U.S. Department of Labor will require all employers with 100 or more workers to require vaccination or weekly negative test results; local governments say the policy is still too new to know how it will apply to public workplaces.

In the meantime, Multnomah County is considering requiring unvaccinated employees, including law enforcement, to be fitted for and wear an N95 mask.

Gov. Kate Brown has required state and public school workers get vaccinated. Chair Kafoury has mandated all county workers get the jab as well, but OHA carved out an exemption Sept. 3 when it determined that police officers can't be classified as health care workers under a 1989 law.

Beyond doctors and nurses, the OHA guidance defines health workers as dental staff, pharmacists, hospital personnel (including administrators, custodial, security and clerical workers and interns), school nurses, cosmetologists, speech therapists, behavioral therapists, paramedics and firefighters.

The rule does not apply to in-home caregivers or health care workers who only work remotely.

"While a police officer may have some medical training, or may even be a licensed health care provider, it is likely not a fundamental part of their job to provide direct or indirect medical care in a healthcare setting," the health authority said.

OHA says it may issue fines of up to $500 a day for every violation of the rule.

Zane Sparling
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