Employees in Deschutes County’s health services department and juvenile detention center will likely be required to be vaccinated for COVID-19 under a new state mandate.
On Wednesday, the Deschutes County Commission indicated it will approve an administrative decision to require this subset of employees to be fully vaccinated or at least have their first shot by Oct. 18 . If they don’t either get vaccinated or file for a religious or medical exemption, employees will be “discharged,” according to a draft of the policy.
All other county departments are not required, but strongly encouraged, to get vaccinated, said Deputy County Administrator Erik Kropp on Wednesday.
These two departments are required specifically because they fall under the state’s definitions of personnel in a “school setting” and a “healthcare setting,” according to Kropp.
The health services department, which is considered a health care setting by the state’s definition, also includes the behavioral health department.
The juvenile detention center is considered a school setting because educational services are provided to detainees, Kropp said.
Employees who file for and receive exemptions will have to work with the county to take other kinds of precautions, such as wearing an N95 mask or social distancing, Kropp said.
Departments that interact with these two departments, like facilities and information technology, will devise plans to prioritize sending vaccinated employees to work in these settings. Currently, Kropp said most of the IT department is vaccinated, compared to the facilities department, which is about half vaccinated.
Kropp said he didn’t know how many employees in the juvenile detention center and health services department were vaccinated, but that there are some concerns the mandate could lead to people leaving the county.
“We have a lot of employees who are concerned about this requirement and the possible impacts,” Kropp said.
Commissioner Phil Chang made a motion to approve the decision Wednesday, but the other two commissioners wanted more time to digest the idea of a mandate before officially voting for it in a week and a half.
Commissioner Tony DeBone said he wasn’t interested in disregarding or breaking the state’s mandate, but had similar concerns about employees leaving the county over the mandate.
“If we lose staff in this critical time, we’re going to lose capacity to provide services,” DeBone said Wednesday.
Chang said the county could have done more to incentivize vaccinations earlier on in the process, and said that he didn’t think the mandate is a great choice, but at this point, was “the only choice we have.”
“We played a role in putting ourselves in this position,” Chang said.
The commission will likely vote to approve the policy at its next meeting in a week and a half.