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Emergency declaration isn’t helpful

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners is protesting common-sense measures to address the recent surge in COVID-19 cases. The commissioners declared a state of emergency based on their assumption that too many people would leave health care and education jobs rather than agree to be vaccinated, causing a “crisis situation” in the county.

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The emergency declaration doesn’t amount to much. It doesn’t provide any resources or contribute to a solution. And the county does not have the power to overrule a state vaccination mandate issued by Gov. Kate Brown.

In August, Brown ordered all health care workers and public school staff and volunteers in the state to get vaccinated by Oct. 18. Medical and religious exemptions are available, although no major religious organization forbids its members to get vaccinated.

The crisis situation that already exists is that too many unvaccinated patients critically ill with COVID are straining hospitals’ resources. The governor’s mandate is a reasonable response to that crisis.

A quirk in state law adopted three decades ago bars hospitals themselves from requiring their employees to be vaccinated, but the governor’s order supersedes that.

Asante would not say whether it supports the governor’s mandate. But the state Hospital Association has asked legislators to change the law to allow hospitals to require vaccines.

The county declaration, like others issued earlier by other Oregon counties, is a reaction to a problem that has not happened yet. The deadline to get vaccinated is still two weeks away. Case numbers in hospitals are still high but beginning to subside.

At the same time, more workers are getting vaccinated.

In August, Asante itself had an outbreak of 61 COVID cases in its own workplace, involving staff and patients — yet another reason health care workers should be vaccinated. At that time, an Asante spokeswoman said 64% of employees across the organization were vaccinated. As of last week, that rate had increased to 83%, and Asante says it continues to increase daily.

Providence said its vaccination rate for all employees was approaching 80%.

Commissioner Colleen Roberts’ assertion that COVID patients who die and have underlying conditions are “not dying from COVID” is hardly worth responding to, but we will do so in the interest of setting the record straight. First, death certificates list multiple conditions present when a person dies. COVID infection itself causes illnesses such as pneumonia that can lead to respiratory failure and death, and people with chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease are at much higher risk of dying if they contract COVID.

The notion that COVID death statistics are wildly inflated is the stuff of conspiracy theories that were thoroughly debunked a long time ago. Dr. Maja Artandi, medical director of the Stanford CROWN Clinic for COVID-19 patients, told Reuters fact-checkers over a year ago that the bottom line in these situations is this: “If they had not gotten the infection,” Dr. Artandi said, “they would still be alive.”

And if they had been vaccinated, they would be much more likely to still be alive. That’s the point of all this.

Many major private employers have announced vaccination requirements for their employees, as they have the right to do. A federal mandate requiring vaccination or regular testing takes effect in November.

Mandate or not, if any workers should be vaccinated against COVID-19, surely those professionals whose job it is to care for sick, vulnerable people ought to be. The same goes for public school staff and volunteers who have daily contact with children, who still cannot be vaccinated.