SALEM, OR (KPTV) - K-12 school employees in Oregon must be fully vaccinated by the fall, and health care workers will no longer be able to test for COVID-19 weekly as a vaccine alternative, Gov. Kate Brown announced Thursday. 

The governor said K-12 teachers, educators, support staff and volunteers in Oregon have until Oct. 18 to be fully vaccinated, or six weeks after full FDA approval, whichever date is later. The mandate extends to private and charter schools. 

It’s the same requirement Brown laid out for state executive branch employees, which includes all state agencies. Health care workers must be vaccinated by Sept. 30. 

“Ensuring all the adults around students are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 adds another layer of protection for students,” Brown said.

Brown made the announcement at a news conference a day after Washington Gov. Jay Inslee unveiled the nation’s strictest vaccine mandate for school employees.

In Washington, the vaccine mandate also applies to all public, charter and private school teachers and staff, in addition to those working at the state’s colleges and universities. In Oregon, the mandate doesn't apply to colleges and child care centers, but Brown said "all options are on the table."

The only opt-outs in Oregon and Washington are medical and religious exemptions. 

Washington state is expanding its COVID-19 vaccine mandate to include all public, charter and private school teachers and staff — plus those working at the state's colleges and universities.

“Health care workers and educators who are not yet vaccinated are urged to speak with their doctor or primary care provider to get their remaining questions about vaccination answered immediately, so they can begin the vaccination process in time to meet the new requirements,” Brown said. 

It’s one of several steps the state is taking to combat a surge in COVID cases and hospitalizations as children return to classrooms in coming weeks. Masks are required at indoor public places statewide, including schools. 

The Oregon Education Association, which represents more than 48,000 school employees, said the union supports Brown's decision. OEA released the following statement in response to the announcement: 

"As we have said from the beginning of this pandemic, nobody wants to get students safely back into the classroom more than Oregon’s educators. While many Oregonians were hopeful that this summer marked the end of the pandemic, it has become increasingly clear that the worst of COVID-19 is not yet behind us. Fueled by the Delta variant, COVID cases in Oregon have skyrocketed to levels that we have not yet witnessed in our state, creating another wave in our ongoing public health crisis.

OEA believes that today’s vaccine requirement will help provide stability for our students this fall and will help improve safety in our schools and in our communities. The science on this issue is clear. Vaccines, coupled with other proven public health mitigation strategies, are the best way to ensure our schools stay open and are a safe place for students to learn and for educators to teach.

We urge districts throughout the state to work collaboratively with educators on how this mandate is implemented at the local level and to continue efforts to maintain additional public health mitigation strategies such as the use of personal protective equipment, frequent testing, social distancing, ensuring proper ventilation and frequent disinfecting in our public schools.”

In Portland, the union that represents teachers in the state's largest school district will be working out the details of the requirement with Portland Public Schools.

"If some employees need to make sure that they have paid time off to get the vaccine or recover from it, those might be things that we talk about,” Portland Association of Teachers President Elizabeth Thiel said. “Making sure people know how to access the exemption forms and fill out the paperwork and processes, and make sure that the whole system is clear and people know what their rights are."

Among healthcare workers, there is significant opposition to the vaccine mandate. The Oregon Nurse's Association reports hundreds of nurses and others who work in healthcare settings have said they have no intention of getting the vaccine.

"ONA was hoping that we would be able to continue with the testing opt-out, simply because we have some members who are very clear that they will not get vaccinated, regardless of what the Governor says and regardless of what their employer says,” ONA President Lynda Pond said. “They will leave the bedside before they succumb to vaccinations."

With the state's hospital systems already suffering from staffing shortages, Pond fears the opposition to the vaccine mandate could make the situation even more dire.

K-12 school employees in Oregon must be fully vaccinated by the fall, and health care workers will no longer be able to test for COVID-19 weekly as a vaccine alternative, Gov. Kate Brown announced.

As of Thursday, there were 845 COVID-19 patients in hospitals across the state. Of those, 226 were in intensive care units. There were 41 available adult ICU beds available in Oregon on Wednesday, and adult non-ICU beds in Oregon were 93 percent full, according to state health officials. 

The Oregon Health Authority also reported 19 additional COVID-19 deaths Thursday, bringing the total number of COVID deaths in Oregon to 2,994. 

On Friday, 500 Oregon National Guard troops will be deployed to more than 20 hospitals overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. Guard members will provide logistical support as materials handlers and equipment runners, as well as assisting with COVID-19 testing and other services. Brown said the Guard members who have medical training are already working in hospitals and healthcare centers around the state. 

Copyright 2021 KPTV-KPDX Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved. 

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