Virus Outbreak

This May 13 photo shows syringes filled with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at a mobile vaccination site in Miami.

Monday marked the deadline for state employees in Oregon — such as hospital workers and K-12 teachers — to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or have acquired an exemption. Those that missed the deadline cannot work Tuesday. 

To comply with the mandate, employees must be fully vaccinated or been approved for a medical or religious exemption. That means they must have gotten the full regimen of doses of the vaccine more than two weeks prior.

Both the Klamath County School District and Sky Lakes Medical Center are expecting some of their employees to be suspended due to non compliance with the state mandate. However, neither is expecting catastrophic results. Klamath Falls City Schools administration said its staff is in full compliance with the mandate. 

Across the border in California, teachers at all public K-12 schools must also be fully vaccinated, while students age 12 and over are also required to be vaccinated by July 1, 2022.

At Sky Lakes, it is currently unknown how many employees will be ineligible to work due to the mandate and whether or not those employees are clinical or non-clinical staff.

“They had the choice of getting vaccinated or getting a medical or religious exemption, and the last I heard it was a relatively small number who had done neither,” said Tom Hottman, public information officer at Sky Lakes. “If there isn’t either medical or religious exemption in place, they cannot be on the schedule (Tuesday).” 

Hottman said the hospital is doing its due diligence to follow state law, and any employee who is not fully vaccinated or formally exempt will be placed on leave until vaccination or the exemption process is complete. 

“I am concerned because we want people to work here and we have good employees,” Hottman said. “We want to keep them here, and if they haven't done the legwork to get the medical or religious exemption then they can’t work. And that makes me a little bit sad because patients as well as other staff rely on them.” 

Directors of departments who will lose staff due to ineligibility to work will be notified Oct. 19, Hottman said. For employees who cannot work, they will either have to use paid time off, or if that is not an option, will remain on unpaid leave until fully vaccinated or an exemption is acquired, Hottman said. 

Hottman said it will be critical to figure out how many clinical staff members will be out and how the medical center will need to shuffle its resources to maintain optimum service. 

“I’m sure there are a lot of plans that have been made and are in the process, but you can only plan so much," Hottman said. "You have to wait and see what happens.” 

Hottman said employees who receive an exemption will be subject to regular testing and masking requirements, depending on the specific accommodations that would be part of the exception. 

The Klamath County School District includes 22 schools, 7,029 students and 895 employees. It does not expect any serious disruption or staffing issues due to the vaccine mandate, said Marcia Schlottmann, public relations specialist for the district.

Of the district's employees, 640 have been fully vaccinated and 237 have been granted exceptions, Schlottmann said, a 98% compliance rate. 

There are 16 employees who have started the vaccination process but will be placed on unpaid administrative leave until full vaccination is achieved. Fifteen of those employees "are classified staff, including some bus drivers, paraprofessionals cafeteria workers and secretarial staff,” said Schlottmann. “Since these staff members work in different schools throughout the district, we do not anticipate an impact on student services.” 

When it comes to exceptions, Schlottmann said that each employee who was approved "met with their supervisor and agreed to specific reasonable steps and safety precautions they must follow based on their job duties and circumstances." 

"We did not implement a mandatory testing requirement and there is not a districtwide KN95 or N95 mask mandate for those employees," she said. 

According to Schlottmann, the mandate will not affect classes, food preparation, bus routes or force the district to hire emergency licensed teachers. 

Keith Brown, superintendent of Klamath Falls City Schools, said his district is 100% in compliance with the state's vaccination mandate. He said 82% of his staff has been fully vaccinated, while the other 18% have been formally exempt.

Brown added the school currently has a full staff and the mandate will not affect the school operations. 

— Reporter Joe Siess can be reached at (541) 885-4481 or jsiess@heraldandnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @jomsiess