On Monday, April 18, Central Oregon Community College implemented a COVID-19 vaccination requirement for all employees, including benefited employees, part-time faculty, and temporary staff such as irregular wage, work study and community education workers.
According to Laura Boehme, Chief HR Officer at COCC, the process for establishing the requirement began last year, when COCC President Dr. Laurie Chesley called for the reopening Task Force to convene, or a large committee that was a “return-to-work” committee for this past fall. This committee was in effect during much of COVID-19, and was in charge of tracking various activities during the pandemic, making sure the COCC website was updated with guidelines, resources, etc.
Partway through 2021, a vaccine subcommittee was created within the Task Force, which was made up of a variety of employees within the college faculty, or administrators and classified employees. Their main goal was to determine what could be done regarding vaccine requirements.
The vaccine subcommittee made a recommendation to Dr. Chesley, who conducted a survey to verify that employees felt similarly to the committee. According to Boehme, 487 employees responded, and around 70% said that they were either fully vaccinated or boosted. 87% of responders said they felt the same about requiring vaccines at COCC. At that time, the committee decided to move forward despite the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements returning.
Boehme said that the response from the staff to that survey was very positive and a lot of staff had indicated they were fine with moving forward.
“It took us some time [to move forward] because we had to get a vaccine system in place. And we also needed to kind of wait and see what the state would do, because at that time, the state was still determining if they were going to require vaccines,” Boehme said.
Currently, there are options for COCC employees, such as through a form from the Oregon Health Administration, for religious or medical exemption, which they can submit for review.
As of now, COCC employees are required to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19, or to submit a medical or religious exemption by Tuesday, May 17. If an employee requests and obtains an approved medical or religious exception, the employee will be required to test weekly for COVID-19 starting on the week of May 23.
“We’ve had less than a handful that up to this point have decided that they feel strongly enough that they have determined they want to resign. They haven’t left the college as of today, but there are a handful that have made a decision for themselves. But they were again, collegial about it. There wasn’t any depth, just their choice, and we want to support what they want to do,” Boehme said.