Jefferson County Commissioners have declared a state of emergency for the county in response to Oregon Governor Brown's vaccine mandate.
Crook, Baker, Coos and Union Counties have already sent similar declarations to the State of Oregon, with other counties considering the same move.
"Teachers, health care workers, firefighters, all the public safety for our county," lists Commissioner Wayne Fording. "It's a big deal if these people aren't going to be allowed to work."
In August, Brown mandated vaccines for educators, health care workers, and all employees in the state executive branch. People in those professions can lose their jobs if they don't get vaccinated by Oct. 18
"Our jail staff is at about 40% vaccinated while fire and EMS have a large group of unvaccinated staff," says Commissioner Simmelink. "It is our understanding that nearly 20% of the St. Charles Health System still is unvaccinated."
Simmelink says the Emergency Declaration preempts what the commission expects will be a emergency if many of these unvaccinated workers choose not to get the vaccine.
The declaration says, "Mandating vaccinations…will have a detrimental impact on the delivery of healthcare, education, public safety and emergency services within Jefferson County."
The mandate applies to jail personnel, not patrol deputies. "I could move patrol deputies that are vaccinated into the jail, that have no correction experience." says Sheriff Marc Heckathorn. "Now I'm taking people off the road and instead of having a 24-hour patrol maybe I have patrol from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m."
Law requires the agency staff the jail, says Heckathorn. "Some of the people in jail need to be in jail. So, you can't just release your way out of this."
Overall, 61% of Jefferson County residents are fully vaccinated, with higher vaccination rates in older age groups. Heckathorn says people on his staff are younger, and many have developed COVID antibodies.
"I bet half of the staff have had COVID at some point," says Heckathorn. "We already have the inoculation as a result of having natural immunities from it."
The declaration asks the Governor to withdraw her vaccine mandates.
"The Board of Commissioners requests that the State of Oregon immediately withdraw its vaccine mandates to prevent further exhaustion and departure of providers of core public services that are essential for the safety and well-being of Oregonians living in, visiting and traveling through Jefferson County."
"I think she needs to take another look at this," says Fording. "It affects rural Oregon a lot different than it affects the valley."
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