Gov. Kate Brown’s mandate that health care workers, teachers and school staff be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 was met with near complete compliance in Central Oregon by the Monday deadline.
But the deadline was not met quietly.
At Mountain View High School dozens of students protested the departure of one of the mandate’s most visible casualties — Mark Schulz, coach of the freshman football team — and at St. Charles Bend, unvaccinated medical personnel lined up along the front entrance of the hospital.
Schulz, 50, told The Bulletin he declined to file for a religious exemption and that Bend-La Pine Schools has placed him on unpaid administrative leave.
“The hardest part is the kids,” he said. “But on the other side of things taking a stand — what I’m doing right now — is for them also, because I think the next vaccine mandate is going to be for the students.”
Many of the protesters outside St. Charles had been placed on unpaid leave as of Monday because their requests for a medical or religious exemptions either had not been approved or were approved but not accommodated.
“These mandates are not lawful,” said Steve Carnes, a member of the People’s Rights Oregon of Redmond. “They’re against our freedom, and we think they’re wrong.”
Employers who do not require workers to be vaccinated or file for an exemption could be met with a $500 fine.
“We do ask employers to offer some flexibility to employees going through the process of becoming vaccinated against COVID-19 or getting approval for a vaccine exception,” Jonathan Modie, a spokesman for the Oregon Health Authority said in an email.
He said those who have not been fully vaccinated or approved for an exemption cannot be near patients or students. Those employees can be asked to work remotely, take vacation time or unpaid leave until they have met the vaccination requirement, he said.
When the mandate was announced in August, Central Oregon educators in nearly all of the region’s school districts were concerned the mandate would contribute to staffing shortages. But on Monday most districts reported nearly 100% compliance. The school districts expect little to no impact on day-to-day operations.
• Bend-La Pine Schools: 91% of the district’s 2,281 staff were vaccinated, 9% filed for an exemption, and 15 employees were placed on unpaid leave.
• Redmond School District: 83% were vaccinated and 17% filed for exemptions.
• Sisters School District: 87% were vaccinated and the rest filed for an exemption.
• Crook County School District: 70% of employees were vaccinated and all but six of the rest filed for exemption. Most of the six positions have been filled.
• Jefferson County School District: 77% of employees were vaccinated and nearly 20% filed for an exemption.Only one employee will leave the district. The rest are still in the process of meeting the requirement.
• Culver School District: 100% of employees complied with the mandate. The district did not share a breakdown of the options staffers chose.
Among the medical professionals Monday protesting the mandate was Allison Hocker, a registered nurse at St. Charles. Hocker and her mother, Barbara Martin, stood with hundreds of others on the public sidewalk outside the hospital after being told they could not protest the mandate on hospital grounds.
As she talked about being placed on unpaid leave, her eyes filled with tears. She had applied for and was granted a religious exemption to the vaccine mandate, but was told the hospital could not accommodate her.
“I don’t have much to say,” Hocker said. “Nurses are a huge part of this group. It’s heartbreaking that the hospital couldn’t accommodate us.”
Meanwhile at the opposite side of the hospital, off Purcell Boulevard, a small group gathered to support health care workers who have worked for the past 20 months. Armed with a lighted sign that said thank you, Emily Gibson said normally her group, Care Baskets for St. Charles Heroes gather in the afternoon to show their support, but on Monday wanted to show a slice of support for the efforts of those working.
“We thought we’d be a voice of support out here and focus on the hired workforce,” Gibson said. “We wanted to be a spot of positivity and rationality. The people here at St. Charles have worked so hard.”
Of the 323 caregivers who applied for exemptions at St. Charles Health System, 49 were reasonably accommodated with remote work and 101 were provided an unpaid leave of absence, according to a hospital statement. Of that same group of 323 caregivers, 98 chose to start their vaccination series after initially requesting an exemption.
The hospital also reported that 93.5% of its staff are vaccinated and 51 medical personnel are in the process of completing a vaccination series. The hospital said that those unable to comply with the mandate, are considered to have voluntarily resigned, according to the hospital.
To date, 180 professionals are presumed to have left St. Charles because of the vaccination mandate, but officials aren’t sure about the exact number.
“We believe that most of those who left us last week were impacted by this rule,” said Rebecca Berry, St. Charles Health System Human Resources vice president in a prepared statement.
Under the governor’s mandate, a medical exemption must be corroborated by a document signed by a medical provider on an Oregon Health Authority form certifying the individual has a physical or mental impairment limiting the individual’s ability to receive a COVID-19 vaccination. A religious exemption must be corroborated on a similar document and signed by the individual because of a sincerely held religious belief and including a statement describing the way in which the vaccination requirement conflicts with the religious observance, practice, or belief.
Schulz, who has been a football coach at Mountain View High School for 26 years, said he is not against vaccines, but he wants people to have a choice.
He said he told students about his decision at their game last week.
“There was a lot of tears and a lot of concern and a lot of hugs,” Schulz said. “I have 27 freshman football players that I’ve gotten to know and love just as my own son and not being able to finish that football season with them ... it was hard.”
Bob Bures, a special education and English teacher at Mountain View High School in Bend, said Schulz is important to a lot of kids.
He said a lot of students feel like he is getting fired, but added that Schulz had the choice of vaccination or religious or medical exemption just like everyone else.
“It’s sad and really hard on the kids,” Bures said.