ENTERPRISE — Theresa Russell, owner of Olive Branch Family Health and Michael McDonald, who works at the clinic, simultaneously answered, “No!” when asked if they would require any of their eight employees get the COVID vaccine.
“Both of us are for the vaccine — absolutely,” Russell said.
They both see it as an individual choice, however.
“They (the staff) are adults. We need to educate them and let them make the choice,” she said. “We need to protect others who are vulnerable."
McDonald echoed her words. He said he “sees it as a choice by the employee. Half (of the Olive Branch employees) have had it and half have not."
Russell went on to explain that because of their education and medical training and background they are able to help their employees “make an informed decision” about whether to receive the vaccination.
To require employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine or not is a question on the minds of more than one business owner in Wallowa County these days. And, to say it is a sensitive issue is putting it mildly, to say the least. Several area business owners declined to be interviewed when asked about it. The reasons varied from the political, to the legal, and even to the philosophical.
“We are doing all we can to help our associates stay informed on COVID-19 prevention to keep them safe and healthy. Along with the CDC, the company believes the vaccine is safe and one of the most important tools we can use to fight the virus. At this time, we are encouraging associates to get vaccinated when they become eligible. We will continue working to make the vaccine as accessible as possible, as soon as possible, to them,” said Jill McGinnis, director of communications and public affairs for Safeway Albertson’s in a statement.
The other businesses contacted varied in the number of employees and size of operation. Some had as few as one employee, while others had 10 to 15.
With two locations, one in Enterprise and one in Joseph, La Laguna Family Mexican Restaurant Co-owner Angelica Zurita with a crew of 15, took a team-oriented approach and polled her employees, posing the question to them of whether they would want to be required to receive the vaccine. Responses were mixed. Some said they wouldn’t really mind, while others weren’t so sure, citing the newness of the vaccine and its still-unknown side effects, if any.
However, she said that she could see where “it might get to that point, where it will come to that for any job,” that the vaccine will be required. She said she pointed out to her employees that working in the food industry, if “some of us get the vaccine, and some of us don’t and one of us gets sick with COVID, we will have to shut down both businesses, and that affects employment for everyone.”
Wallowa County Grain Growers General Manager Mike Hayward took a thoughtful and considered approach.
“I think before we required anyone to get the vaccine, we’d be in consultation with our legal counsel, which would involve our attorney and insurance company,” he said.
Zurita said she realized it wasn’t a done deal yet.
“If some businesses make it mandatory, others will follow,” she said. “If I had to make it mandatory, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. We work in the food industry.”
She went on to say that, “we have to think about everyone’s safety. The rules and regulations after the pandemic are most likely not going away. We might as well face facts. We can’t pretend it’s not happening."
McDonald, however, gives high marks to Wallowa County compared to other counties in the state with significantly higher levels of risk by saying, “We’ve been handling this pandemic wonderfully.”