A healthcare system that is already struggling due to COVID-19 and understaffing could take another hit soon due to a state mandate that requires all employees in the healthcare industry to be fully vaccinated against COVID.
The mandate issued by Gov. Kate Brown requires anyone who works in the healthcare industry to be fully vaccinated by October 18. To meet the deadline, employees would have had to already begun the Moderna and Pfizer series of vaccines. They could also get the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, which is only one shot, by October 4.
Dr. Eric Gleason, assistant director of Coos Health and Wellness, said local healthcare employees will lose their jobs due to the mandate. The exact number is not known, but as the deadline approaches, Gleason admits he's worried.
"I don't know how it wouldn't be a concern," Gleason said. "October 18 is the deadline to prove you are vaccinated. That impacts us just like it does any other clinic. The healthcare system is already crumbling."
Gleason said as of last Wednesday, 23 COVID patients were hospitalized in Coos County, putting an enormous strain on the healthcare industry. Losing more nurses and staff could be devastating.
"That's concerning," he said. "That means more deaths, that means more people are not going to get the care they need. It's another darn reason to get the vaccine. You're going to see a lot of services in healthcare crumble."
Gleason said hospitals and clinics are planning for the likelihood of losing employees, but he said the full impact won't be known until next month.
"It's going to be hard on the healthcare system," Gleason said. "It's going to be hard on an already strained system. I don't know that we're really going to know what the impact will be until it's over."
As of Wednesday, there were 598 active COVID cases in the county and 70 people being monitored. Coos Health and Wellness reported five new COVID-related deaths Tuesday.
While some areas of the state were seeing a decline in cases, Gleason said it is too early to say Coos County has peaked with Delta variant cases.
"It looks like we're pretty steady," he said. "I would say we need to give another week and see if we're dropping or it stays the same. Hopefully we can see it start to slide down the hill soon."
One of Gleason's biggest frustrations is the number of people who refuse to consider getting vaccinated. When asked about those protesting the vaccine mandates, he replied with questions of his own.
"I could ask if they drive without a seatbelt on," Gleason said. "I could ask if they drive a motorcycle without a helmet. There's a hundred things I could ask. We can't reach those people."
Gleason said vaccinations in Coos County are increasing fractionally, often less than 1 percent a week. One area where Gleason was pleasantly surprised was learning more than 46 percent of children ages 12 to 17 are fully vaccinated.
"We have done pretty good across the age ranges, but there's still pockets we haven't been able to reach," he said.
While the vaccine has been controversial, it remains the easiest way to be protected from COVID. In the recent Delta surge, around 87 percent of cases are among the unvaccinated. Among those hospitalized and those who have died, the numbers are even higher with more than 93 percent among the unvaccinated.
Gleason said there some of the recent deaths have been among those who were fully vaccinated, but the vast majority were those who did not get the vaccine. Gleason also reported an infant child died with COVID last week in Douglas County.