Friday, October 15, 2021
Oct. 15, 2021

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Washington announces vaccine mandate for state workers, health care

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OLYMPIA — Most state workers in Washington, as well as private health care and long-term care employees, will be required to show proof of vaccination for COVID-19 by Oc. 18 or will lose their jobs, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Monday.

Weekly testing will not be an option for those who want to avoid vaccination and maintain their employment, and the only opt-out of the requirement is either a medical or religious exemption.

The order applies to about 60,000 employees of the 24 state agencies that are part of the governor’s executive Cabinet, which includes the departments of corrections, social and health services, transportation and the Washington State Patrol. A fact sheet issued to employees notes that the order applies to employees who are currently working remotely, since they may need to go to a work site at some point. The governor’s office said the overall number includes those who have already been vaccinated, so it was unclear how many within that group are unvaccinated.

Employees in the private sector who are covered under the order include those who work in health care and long-term care and other congregate settings, including nursing homes, assisted living and treatment facilities.

The order does not extend to: employees at the state colleges and universities; teachers and staff at the state’s public K-12 schools; legislative employees; the judicial branch; and employees of the state’s eight other separately elected statewide officials, including staff for the lieutenant governor and attorney general. Inslee’s office said the governor — who is mandating vaccines for his employees — has spoken to elected officials and legislative leaders and encouraged them to follow suit.

Inslee’s announcement appears to be the most stringent of other states that have issued vaccination requirements for state or health care workers. In California, New York, and Virginia, state workers must either be vaccinated or submit to weekly testing starting next month, but vaccination is mandated for California’s health care workers, without a testing option, starting Sept. 30. In Oregon, health care workers will be required to be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing starting Sept. 30.

President Biden recently announced federal workers will be required to sign forms attesting they’ve been vaccinated against the coronavirus or else comply with new rules on mandatory masking, weekly testing, distancing and more, and the the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs VA has mandated COVID-19 vaccines among its medical employees.

Inslee announced Washington’s mandate at Kaiser Permanente, which announced last week that it was making the vaccine mandatory for all employees and physicians. The City of Seattle and King County are requiring the same for their employees.

At the end of last month, Inslee said the state was following federal guidance and recommending that everyone regardless of vaccination status wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas where there is “substantial or high” rates of COVID-19.

As of this weekend, most of the state’s 39 counties were in the “high” threshold, with three in the “substantial” range.

There have been more than 445,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases — plus another 43,000 “probable” cases — in Washington state, and 6,168 deaths. State health officials say that most of the state’s new infections are caused by the delta variant, a more contagious version of the coronavirus.

As of last week, nearly 70% of people age 12 and older have initiated vaccination and about 62% are fully vaccinated.

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