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

Mayor Ted Wheeler said he was "disappointed," and Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said the state had tied the county's hands.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland police officers and Multnomah County sheriff's deputies will not be required to get vaccinated against COVID-19 under the city's vaccine mandate, the city and county announced this week. 

The city announced on August 30 it would require all city employees to be vaccinated or risk losing their jobs. 

The city initially interpreted Gov. Brown's order requiring all health care workers in Oregon to be vaccinated to legally include police officers, who receive some medical training. But new guidance from the Oregon Health Authority, first reported by OPB, said police officers are "probably not" covered under this rule because, for most of them, providing medical care is not a "fundamental part of their job." 

Because of that updated guidance, the city and county will not apply the mandate to law enforcement officers. 

RELATED: Latest modeling by OHA projects 'slight decline' in COVID cases in Oregon

Multnomah County initially said it was further assessing the guidance from OHA, but joined the city of Portland Thursday in acknowledging under current state law, the county's vaccine mandate does not apply to law enforcement. 

Chair Deborah Kafoury expressed disappointment and in a statement said, "the state has tied our hands."

"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," Kafoury said. "Absent a state rule requiring these employees to be vaccinated as a condition of employment, we will require unvaccinated law enforcement and parole and probation officers to take additional precautions to prevent the further spread of COVID and its variants." 

The county said it will look into extra requirements for unvaccinated employees, such as being fitted for and wearing an N95 mask.

RELATED: 5,821 new COVID-19 cases reported in Oregon over holiday weekend

A representative for Portland Police said Wednesday the bureau is not taking a stand on vaccine mandates. On Thursday morning, Portland police tweeted that about 600 out of 795 sworn members of the Portland Police Bureau have been vaccinated through city clinics.

"We do not know the exact total because there was no mandate, and therefore no tracking," PPB tweeted. "We know many members who went to other places besides the city clinic."

Heads of the Portland Police Association, the labor union representing officers, had warned the city multiple officers would resign over the mandate. PPA did not respond to KGW"s request for comment on Wednesday.

Dan Thenell is an attorney and general counsel for the Oregon Fraternal Order of Police. He is representing dozens of firefighters and Oregon state troopers who are suing the state and Gov. Kate Brown over vaccine mandates. 

State troopers are currently required to be vaccinated under two mandates: one applied to healthcare workers, which is now in question under the new guidance, and a second that requires all state employees get the vaccine by Oct. 18th. The latter was put in place by Gov. Kate Brown, via an executive order. It remains intact.

Wednesday, Thenell said even he has a hard time figuring out what to make of the OHA’s new guidance.

“Well, [‘probably not’ is] not really an answer. ’Probably not’ is a guess,” he said. “But my guess is, if it was intentional, it was designed that way. So cities and counties could come up and make their own decisions about what's right for their societies and their public and their workforce and their community.”