October 13, 2021

A County employee takes a selfie while being vaccinated early in 2021.

Vaccinations have increased across Multnomah County‘s workforce since Chair Deborah Kafoury mandated that as a condition of employment, County employees must be vaccinated for COVID-19 or receive an exception.

The County reported today that an impressive 92% of the County’s 5,601 employees have been vaccinated since the requirement was announced in August. For comparison, about 80% of adults 18 and over in Multnomah County have been vaccinated. 

Just under 7% — or 373 employees — have received approved religious or medical exceptions or are exempt from the mandate under state law.

The remaining employees  — 73 — have been notified they will be laid off or terminated unless they show proof of vaccination or submit an exemption request by the Oct. 18 deadline. Just 26 of those are full-time regular employees, or less than half a percent of the workforce. The remainder are temporary, on-call or limited duration employees.

But even that layoff number has changed substantially. Since separation notices were first sent to 124 employees on Oct. 1, 51 people either received vaccines or an approved exception, and their layoffs were rescinded.

“Multnomah County cares for people in crisis. We work with seniors, people with disabilities, individuals in detention and with families needing health services. Our community needs to know we are doing everything we can to keep them safe and to end this pandemic,’’ said Chair Kafoury.

The Chair issued the mandate Aug. 20 as Oregon struggled through its fifth surge of cases and Metro-area hospitals reached capacity from the spread of the Delta variant. Since the pandemic began in February 2020, 721 County residents have died of COVID-19, 54,729 people have tested positive and 3,639 people have been hospitalized.

The County is required by state and federal laws to offer exceptions. Any County employee could file for an exception to the mandate based on sincerely held religious beliefs or on documentation from a healthcare professional that a person has one of a small number of medical conditions that can be a reason to forgo the COVID-19 vaccine. The County vaccine requirement does not include boosters.

Excluding the Sheriff’s Office, to date, 14 County staff have received approved medical exceptions. Another 192 received approved religious exceptions.  Eleven applications were denied and a small number are still pending.

The County was prevented from requiring some employees to be vaccinated, including law enforcement officers and Parole and Probation officers, because an Oregon law preempts the requirement for law enforcement. Corrections officers in some positions are required to have the vaccine. The Sheriff’s Office reports at least 79 percent of staff are vaccinated or partially vaccinated.

All County employees who are exempt from the requirement and employees who received a medical or religious exception who are unvaccinated will be required to be fit-tested and wear N95 specific masks to continue to work. The County will work with employees unable to wear N95 masks to take additional steps to protect them and others from contracting and spreading COVID-19.

“Vaccination is one of the last best tools we have to limit the spread and avoid serious illness,’’ said Chief Operating Officer Serena Cruz. “I am really proud of this workforce’s commitment to our community. The more of us who are vaccinated, the more lives that will be saved.’’

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