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So far, it's business as usual, no mass exodus, as COVID vaccine mandate looms

In August, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced workers in health care settings and in schools must be vaccinated by Oct. 18.

With six days to go before the deadline, Culver School District Superintendent Stefanie Garber says none of her staff has quit rather than vaccinate.

"Each person is priceless to us," says Garber. "And to have a temporary rule related to a personal decision as the cause of them leaving is criminal in my eyes. They shouldn't have ever been put in that position in the first place."

Jefferson County School District 509-J is waiting for the Oct. 18 deadline to tally up the effects of the mandate. "I can tell you that we do have staff that have submitted religious exception forms," says 509-J Communications Coordinator Joey Prechtl, "and we have separate staff that have submitted medical exception forms."

If staff members leave, the district will fill positions with subs until they hire replacements.

People who opt out of the vaccination for religious or medical reasons may file an exception with their employer.

A healthcare provider must fill out and sign the employee's medical exception request form.

An employee can ask for a religious exception based on "a sincerely held religious belief" and must include a statement describing the way in which the vaccination requirement conflicts with that belief.

The employer doesn't have to record the exceptions or proof of vaccination with the Oregon Health Authority, just hold onto the paperwork for two years.

Acting Jefferson County Fire Chief Kasey Skaar says based on advice from legal counsel, the board is accepting exemption applications.

"All of this in the future could have an impact on us." Skaar says requiring vaccination could limit the number of EMTs in the employment pool.

"I think the fear was out there that we would lose a couple (employees)," says Mike Lepin, chief of Jefferson County Emergency Medical Services. "But I think we'll be OK."

Lepin says most of his people are vaccinated, and a couple may file for religious or medical exceptions.

As of Sept. 27, at St. Charles Madras, 81% (172) of the 213 caregivers were either fully vaccinated or had begun their vaccination series. At that time, 41 employees were not vaccinated.

St. Charles spokesperson Lisa Goodman says those people may either voluntarily terminate their position or apply for a medical or religious exception.

Those with exceptions will no longer be able to work in patient care, and St. Charles will try to find a reasonable accommodation for them.

Goodman says the hospital won't have a full handle on the numbers the mandate will affect until the Oct. 18 deadline.

And when does the mandate end?

As far as the state mandate is concerned, the OHA website says, "Temporary administrative rules usually are in effect for six months from the date they are issued. They can be ended sooner. An agency can also adopt a temporary rule as a permanent rule."


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