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'It's still too soon': Local, state officials unsure what Biden's vaccine mandates mean for Oregon's requirements

The president’s announcement comes amid an already tumultuous week for vaccine mandates in Oregon.

PORTLAND, Ore. — On Thursday, local and state officials were working to figure out what new national COVID-19 vaccine mandates, covering federal workers, large employers and healthcare staff, meant for an already changing landscape of requirements in Oregon. 

President Joe Biden announced Thursday he’s directing the Labor Department to require all businesses with 100 or more employees to ensure their workers are either vaccinated or tested once a week. Businesses who refuse to comply, he said, could face fines of up to nearly $14,000 per violation.

Experts believe the new mandates could apply to 100 million Americans or two-thirds of the country’s workforce.

"We've been patient, but our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us," Biden said.

RELATED: Biden announces new vaccine mandates affecting 100 million Americans

The president was still wrapping up his press conference when representatives with the Oregon Health Authority opened a Q & A session with the media, offering new information about COVID-19 deaths across the state.

KGW asked OHA representatives what impact, if any, the national policy would have on existing vaccine mandates across the state. Officials seemed caught off guard.

“I cannot speak to the details of that mandate, as I’m not familiar with it,” said senior health advisor Dr. Bukhosi Dube.

In an email to KGW, a spokesperson for Governor Kate Brown’s office added officials were still reviewing the president’s new mandates.

“…My understanding is that they will not impact requirements already in place. But I will let you know if I hear of potential impacts,” wrote deputy communications director Charles Boyle.

A couple of hours later, Governor Brown thanked the president, tweeting the mandates will "...complement our efforts in Oregon to get more shots in arms and keep our schools, businesses, and communities open."

Representatives for Multnomah County and the city of Portland both said staff were still reviewing the president's new requirements.

“It’s still too soon to know whether this will have an impact,” wrote Heather Hafer, public information officer for Portland’s Office of Management and Finance.

The president’s announcement comes amid a tumultuous week for vaccine mandates in Oregon. Last Friday the OHA quietly released new guidelines, saying police officers were “probably not” covered under a statewide mandate, requiring healthcare workers get the COVID vaccine. The move was an about-face. Officials had previously argued police officers were covered under that mandate, because they receive training in basic first aid.

RELATED: Portland, Multnomah County drop vaccine mandate for law enforcement after state says officers are 'probably not' eligible

As a result, the city of Portland and Multnomah County this week rewrote mandates for their employees, carving out an exemption for police officers, sheriff’s deputies and parole and probation officers.

Mayor Wheeler said in a statement he was “disappointed” by the shift, first reported by OPB. He added the city would continue to encourage all employees to get the vaccine.

Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said in a statement Thursday, “The state of Oregon has the authority to require vaccinations of local law enforcement and parole and probation officers, but is choosing not to do so … We have asked — and are still asking — the state to require these vaccinations. We are not giving up.”

Chair Kafoury added the county was evaluating “alternative” options, including requiring all unvaccinated employees be fitted for and wear N95 masks while on the job.

Meantime, law enforcement officers with the state are fighting a second mandate that still applies to them: one requiring all state employees get the COVID vaccine by Oct. 18 or lose their jobs. Dozens of firefighters and Oregon State Troopers filed a lawsuit against the state and Governor Kate Brown last week, alleging the mandate was unlawful because, among other things, it violates state and federal rights to freedom of expression. That lawsuit is still pending.

Attorney Dan Thenell serves as general counsel for the Oregon Fraternal Order of Police and is representing the plaintiffs in that suit.

“There is a significant number of people [within OSP] who do not support this vaccine mandate and who are very upset about it, are principled about it and are prepared to lose their jobs over it,” he said in an interview last week. “There's going to be a public safety concern if dozens and dozens of police officers and firefighters quit over this.”

In Portland, a police spokesman Wednesday said the bureau wasn’t taking a stance on the issue. PPB later tweeted that a majority of officers, at least 600 out of 795, are already fully vaccinated, a rate of more than 75%.

A spokesperson for the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office said via email, "At least 72% of MCSO employees were vaccinated through [county public health] clinics." He added officials expect the actual vaccination rate within the department to be higher.

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