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A thin plastic sheet separates the intensive care unit from the COVID-19 ward at Grande Ronde Hospital on Monday, Aug. 30, 2021.

LA GRANDE — The Union County Board of Commissioners, in an effort to better position itself to deal with a looming crisis, passed a resolution declaring an emergency due to the likelihood the county will soon be suffering a staffing shortage of health care and public safety workers.

“This is a preemptive action and a preventive one,” Union County Commissioner Paul Anderes said following the Wednesday, Sept. 15, vote at the Joseph Annex Building, La Grande.

Nick Vora, Union County’s emergency manager, said the declaration will get the attention of the state and put Union County in a better position to apply for assistance from the state if a shortage occurs. Union County is facing a possible shortage because of the toll the COVID-19 pandemic is taking on health care and emergency service workers, some of whom may have had to step down from their jobs.

“The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has exhausted many providers of core public services, including first responders, health care providers, emergency services, public health and public safety among others,” according to the resolution.

The resolution goes on to state that Union County faces the possibility of losing many more health care and emergency service workers because of the state’s vaccination mandate. The resolution contends the mandates could cause people to leave their jobs. Vora said some reasons are that some will not be able to get vaccinated for reasons such as health issues and religious beliefs. In other cases even those who are vaccinated will not be able to continue working because they don’t want to share information about their medical history with others, Vora told the the board of commissioners before the vote.

Union County Commissioner Matt Scarfo said he has heard that in some situations a significant number of health care and emergency workers could be impacted by the vaccine mandate, which takes effect Oct. 18.

“That is too scary of a situation for me to even think about,” said Scarfo, who is chair of the board of commissioners.

Nearly all K-12 school employees, parent volunteers and health care workers in Oregon must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 18, according to rules issued in August by the Oregon Health Authority, and employers who don’t comply can be fined up to $500 per day.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said the measures were needed to curb the rapid spread of the delta variant of the virus and allow schools to remain open for in-person classes. She also said testing health care workers for COVID-19 regularly if they chose not to get vaccinated was not practical.

“There are simply not enough resources to stand up weekly testing systems, while also responding to the current crisis,” Brown said in an Aug. 19 news conference.

The Union County resolution asks that the potential shortage be addressed by having the state withdraw its COVID-19 vaccination mandates to “prevent further loss of the vital public health and safety workforce.”

Commissioner Donna Beverage said she hopes the the resolution will catch the attention of the state.

“We want to let the state know that the mandate will cause shortages of essential workers across Oregon,” she said.

The resolution also suggests that, as an alternative to a statewide withdrawal of the mandate, Union County be exempted from the COVID-19 vaccine mandates and power returned to the county as the local public health authority.

This is the second resolution passed by the commissioners in September. Earlier this month, the commissioners passed a resolution protesting the statewide mandate requiring all teachers, school staff, school volunteers, health care workers and state employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19.

The resolution contends that the decision to get vaccinated for COVID-19 should be an individual one.

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Dick Mason is a reporter with The Observer primarily covering the communities of North Powder, Imbler, Island City and Union, education, Union County veterans programs and local history. Dick joined The Observer in 1983, first working as a sports and outdoors reporter.

General assignment reporter

Beats include the communities of North Powder, Imbler, Island City and Union, education, Union County veterans programs and local history. Dick joined The Observer in 1983, first working as a sports and outdoors reporter.

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