How delta disrupted return to office plans in Washington County
At the start of the summer, it seemed that — for just a moment — it was time office workers who had been working from home during the pandemic to start thinking about returning to their cubicles.
But the surge in the delta variant of the coronavirus put a wrench in things, causing a significant rise in cases and hospitalizations, mostly among Oregon's unvaccinated population.
Washington County — although the most vaccinated county in the state — was no exception.
President Joe Biden announced new mandates on Thursday, Sept. 9, requiring private employers with more than 100 employees to require their workers to either get vaccinated against COVID-19 or tested weekly.
A spokesperson for Intel Corp. declined to comment on how the county's largest employer plans to address these new requirements. But Intel does have a policy in place that incentivizes its workers to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
"As a thank-you to those vaccinated before the end of the year, we are offering $250 for employees and an additional $100 food voucher for hourly employees," said Intel spokesperson Nancy Sanchez. "Intel employees are also able to take up to four hours of paid time off for their vaccination appointments."
As far as back-to-office plans, Sanchez said company officials are customizing policies for each Intel site.
"Intel's Pandemic Leadership Team continues to closely monitor the latest COVID information, including the delta variant," she said. "Each site's approach and timeline for enabling additional workers to return depends on local government regulations, community case trends, vaccination rates, and recommendations from local and international health authorities."
Sanchez added that when there is a suspected case, Intel requires a worker to self-quarantine. For confirmed cases, Intel conducts contact tracing and inform other workers who may have come into close contact with the infected person.
Last spring, Nike Inc. announced plans to bring employees back to its headquarters outside Beaverton in September with a "3-2 flexible work model," allowing workers to do their job remotely up to two days per week.
But Wllamette Week reported earlier this month that Nike has delayed the part-time return due to the delta surge.
"For our Nike, Jordan and Converse corporate employees, we will not be reopening our World Headquarters or other (campuses) or offices during September and October," Nike chief executive officer John Donahoe wrote in an email to employees obtained by Willamette Week. "For all employees, we will share a more comprehensive communication about our future plans in September."
Nike did not respond to any questions from Pamplin Media Group about its back-to-work plans or whether it will require proof of vaccination for its employees.
While most city and county officials haven't announced any plans to implement vaccine mandates, cities like Hillsboro and Beaverton are implementing more stringent policies for unvaccinated employees. But Tigard and Portland are among a handful of local governments that are hashing out plans to require employees to get vaccinated.
Starting Friday, Sept. 17, unvaccinated employees and public officials in Beaverton and Hillsboro will be required to wear a city-provided KN95 respirator while interacting with the public and coworkers.
Tigard instituted a similar policy on Monday, Sept. 13.
Beaverton gives some leeway on this mandate, allowing unvaccinated employees to instead wear a double mask or face covering, or a mask brace or fitter that improves the efficiency of the mask.
Beaverton spokesperson Dianna Ballash said about 60% of the city government's workers need to be on-site at their jobs.
Hillsboro spokesperson Patrick Preston said the hope is that the mask mandate will prompt workers to get vaccinated if they haven't already.
Meanwhile, Washington County spokesperson Julie McCloud said the delta surge prompted the county government to encourage employees who are able to continue telecommuting. Unlike neighboring Multnomah County, though, Washington County is not yet requiring employees to provide proof of vaccination.
Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue workers started returning to work in early August, said spokesperson Cassandra Ulven.
But the fire agency is still limiting the amount of people in the office, she said.
"With the delta variant and the surges that we've seen to date, we've gone back to a staggered work schedule," she said.
No matter how many people are in the building, masks are always a requirement, Ulven added.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.