Oregon’s sweeping vaccine mandate did not cause a mass staff exodus across critical industries and state agencies Tuesday, the first day thousands of Oregonians had to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or have an approved exemption to report to work.
Gov. Kate Brown’s order applies to as many as 200,000 Oregonians, including health care workers, long-term care employees, educators and state workers. Brown set a Monday deadline for full vaccinations, although most state workers got an extension until Nov. 30.
Many employers have reported high compliance rates after factoring in vaccinations and approved medical or religious exceptions. But state administrators said Tuesday they could not collectively tally how many of the roughly 40,000 executive-branch employees have been or will be placed on administrative leave for failing to comply – let alone account for the broader fallout for other public or private employers.
A spokesperson for Oregon’s Department of Administrative Services said it could take “a couple of days” to provide more information about state workers.
“We currently do not have numbers available for employees that may be placed on administrative leave,” Sherry Kudna wrote in an email. “Agencies are in the process of contacting employees who have not met the necessary vaccine requirements.”
But while any immediate crisis appears to have been averted, the overall tally of workers who could lose their jobs across all sectors for not being vaccinated is likely into the thousands.
The state’s chief health agency, the Oregon Health Authority, has not been able to say how many people are subject to the mandate or how many of them have received shots.
Brown announced the mandate in August, saying mandated shots would help reduce the surge in infections brought by the delta variant, help keep open capacity in hospitals and help ensure workplaces stay safe. Several lawsuits have been unsuccessful in blocking the requirement from taking effect.
Of Oregon Health & Science University’s 22,000 students, volunteers and staff, 96% were fully vaccinated, a spokesperson for the hospital said. Of the 23,000 people who work for Providence Health & Services, nearly 98% had either received shots or got an exemption. And across Legacy Health’s Washington and Oregon systems, 491 people are in the process of being fired because they wouldn’t get vaccinated. About 90% of Salem Health staff are fully vaccinated, most of the rest asking for an exemption.
Oregon officials don’t know how many of the approximately 33,000 direct long-term care workers are fully vaccinated.
But none of the 680 or so large facilities the agency regulates have asked the state for help with staffing as a direct result of the vaccine mandate, Department of Human Services spokesperson Lisa Morawski said in an email.
“With the steps we have taken, we have not seen any immediate disruptions but will continue to monitor the situation closely,” Morawski said.
The agency is contacting nursing, assisted living and memory care facilities to make sure they have the staff they need.
While most of the approximately 43,000 people who work for the state got an extension to get vaccinated, all but about 1,200 have either gotten shots or asked for exceptions to the requirement.
The state’s equivalent of a human resources agency, the Department of Administrative Services, said it doesn’t know how many people were put on leave Tuesday, even though some state agencies reported those figures.
Oregon State Police said 11 employees – or 1.4% of the agency’s unionized workforce – were put on leave because they weren’t fully vaccinated. Four others resigned from the agency, citing the mandate as the reason.
The Department of Agriculture, meanwhile, reported that 10 of its 495 workers had been placed on administrative leave for failing to comply.
The Department of Corrections identified 193 out of its roughly 4,500 employees who had not submitted vaccine paperwork. The agency’s director previously told the newsroom she planned to enforce the requirement beginning Tuesday, but an agency spokesperson did not respond to questions Tuesday about how many workers had been placed on leave.
The Department of Forestry said 80% of its workforce is vaccinated, 16% got religious or medical exemptions from the mandate and about 2.5% didn’t get shots or exemptions and are now on administrative leave.
Portland-area school districts said only a sliver of employees had to be put on unpaid leave for not complying with the vaccination mandate, though even those small numbers have made an existing staff shortage more difficult.
About 75 people working for Portland Public Schools, or just under 1% of the workforce, were unvaccinated and had no qualifying exemptions, including five teachers, 16 custodians, six food services staff and three bus drivers. The district said it has placed those workers on unpaid leave and is pursuing termination.
About five Beaverton School District employees didn’t meet requirements, and less than 2% of Hillsboro School District staff – or about 44 workers – are on leave, have quit or have been fired because of their refusal to get shots.
Other vulnerable populations
The Department of Human Services doesn’t know how many workers in Oregon’s 2,400 specialized homes for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are vaccinated, and it is unlikely to know in the future.
Some of the companies running the homes have asked the state for help with staffing, however, and the agency is “processing” those requests, Morawski said.
The Department of Human Services also does not know how many of its child welfare employees will have to be put on leave or be fired for failure to get shots, a spokesperson said. The agency is still contacting those who neither submitted vaccination information nor asked for an exemption.