Saint Alphonsus Medical Center in Ontario. (Submitted photo)

Health care workers in Malheur County will soon be required to either take weekly Covid tests or get vaccinated. 

The Oregon Health Authority is expected to issue the new measures this week, under the direction of Gov. Kate Brown. 

“Severe illness from COVID-19 is now largely preventable, and vaccination is clearly our best defense,” Brown said in a press statement. “Vaccination and weekly testing ensure Oregonians can safely access health care and employees can go to work in an environment that maximizes health and safety measures for COVID-19.” 

Starting Sept. 30, workers in local hospitals and clinics who have direct or indirect contact with patients or infectious material will be required to take weekly tests or prove they are vaccinated.

Sarah Poe, Malheur County Health Department director, said it shouldn’t be difficult for local health care employers to enforce the new rule.

“The health care partners we work with have already been encouraging this and are already familiar with this process,” Poe said. “This is the least logistically difficult sector because most health care places have already been testing their employees frequently.”

Poe added that the vaccine shouldn’t be viewed as political and that “it's our best tool to turn this tide because our numbers are going up a lot.”

The Oregon Health Authority is set to issue the rule later this week, along with its guidelines.

“We’re evaluating, and seeking more information from the OHA on specifics,” said Mark Snider of the Saint Alphonsus Health System, which employs around 600 people in Ontario and Baker City.

Saint Alphonsus recently announced vaccination requirements for employees in Idaho, but Oregon state law prevents individual vaccine mandates from employers. 

The Oregon Nurses Association and the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems welcomed the new state rule.

“This is a reasonable and sensible approach which respects the individual choices of health care workers while also protecting public health,” wrote the Oregon Nurses Association in a statement. 

The move comes as cases of the delta variant increase across the state and Malheur County. The county announced 10 new cases on Tuesday. 

According to state and local health authorities, Covid vaccines are safe and effective at preventing severe illness and death, and limit the disease’s spread. Vaccinated people are much less likely to get Covid and the delta variant, they say. To learn more, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

News tip? Contact reporter Joey Cappelletti at [email protected] or reporter Abbey McDonald at [email protected]

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