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News / Health / Health Wire

What to know about Washington’s new mask mandate, vaccine requirement for school, child care workers

By Amanda Zhou, The Seattle Times
Published: August 19, 2021, 7:43am

The mask is back.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced on Wednesday a new statewide indoor mask mandate for all residents ages 5 and up, regardless of vaccination status, along with new vaccine requirements for K-12 and higher education educators and staff, and child care providers.

“This virus is increasingly impacting young people, and those under the age of 12 still can’t get the vaccine for themselves. We won’t gamble with the health of our children, our educators and school staff, nor the health of the communities they serve,” Inslee said at a news conference.

The mask mandate will go in effect Monday and all individuals subject to the vaccine mandate, including most state employees and health care workers, must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18.

The announcement comes as hospitals have approached capacity and as hospitalizations have increased, breaking the previous record set in December, according to the governor’s office. Every Washington county is also categorized as substantial or high risk for transmission, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Here’s what to know:

Who is subject to the vaccine requirement?

Anyone working in a K-12 environment, including teachers, staff, coaches, bus drivers and volunteers. This includes public, private and charter schools.

The requirement also affects any educators, staff, faculty or contractors in Washington’s higher-education institutions and most child care and early-learning providers who serve children from multiple households. Any contractor or employee of a license-exempted or licensed and certified early-learning, child care or youth-development program.

Inslee estimated about 118,000 workers in early-learning and child care programs and 90,000 staff and faculty members in higher-education institutions could potentially be subject to the mandate.

Who isn’t affected?

Students and any individuals who are providing child care as a family member, friend or neighbor. The mandate also does not include tribal schools.

Can I opt out?

Individuals may apply for medical and religious exemptions but will otherwise be subject to dismissal if they aren’t vaccinated.

Inslee said those who aren’t in compliance will face a formal process of their discharge. “This is a serious issue. This is not some suggestion or whimsical idea we’re floating. It is a job requirement.”

Where are masks required?

Masks will be required in most public indoor spaces, including restaurants, grocery stores, malls and public-facing offices.

Exempted are office spaces that are not easily accessible to the public where individuals are vaccinated, and when working alone indoors or in a vehicle where there is no public face-to-face interaction.

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Masks are not required for small, private indoor gatherings where all attendees are vaccinated.

Masks will continue to be required for unvaccinated workers on the job, whether it is public-facing or not. Masks are also required for all individuals in K-12 settings, public transportation and congregate living areas like hospitals and jails.

The state Department of Health also recommends — but is not requiring — wearing a mask in crowded outdoor settings like a concert, fairs or farmers markets.

How should I prove my vaccination status?

The state Department of Labor and Industries and the Department of Health have published requirements and guidance that all employers must adhere to. Acceptable types of verification include:

  • Vaccine card or photo of vaccine card.
  • Documentation from a health care provider.
  • State immunization system record.
  • A hard copy or electronically signed self-attestation from the employee.

For state employees, however, proof of vaccination is required and attestation will not be allowed under the mandate.

When do I need to start the vaccination process?

According to the CDC, people are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose in a two-dose series, such as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, and two weeks after the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

If you’re getting a Pfizer vaccine, you need to wait at least three weeks after your first shot to receive a second dose. You need to wait at least four weeks after receiving the first dose of the Moderna vaccine.

In order to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18, that means the latest you can start your inoculation is:

  • Sept. 6: Moderna
  • Sept. 13: Pfizer
  • Oct. 4: Johnson & Johnson
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