Washington announces COVID vaccine mandate for state workers, health care providers

Gov. Jay Inslee announced on Monday that all Washington state employees as well as heath and long-term care providers are required to be fully vaccinated.

The order is effective immediately and state workers must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18, 2021 in order to keep their jobs.

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.

The requirement applies to all state workers regardless of whether work is remote or in-person.

Employees may work with their individual agency's human resources department if they need accommodation for medical or religious reasons and will not be subject dismissal.

Additional safety requirements may be required for those who are granted accommodations.

All other state employees who refuse to get vaccinated or refuse to provide verification will be subject to non-disciplinary dismissal.

RELATED: King County and Seattle see a massive surge in COVID cases

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.

RELATED: Washington hospitals 'quite full' amid COVID-19 case surge

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.

Q13 News talked with a few state employees who said emails and texts have been flying fast and furious among state workers following the announcement.

David Wright has been working as a systems architect for the Department of Revenue for 13 years. He has not been vaccinated, and said it was a "bit of a shock to the system" to learn he risks losing his job if he doesn't get fully vaccinated by October.

"I’ve got to go through and do some deep thinking now about, especially with how short a time frame it is, whether or not I want to go through and risk losing my job and looking for another position in the current job climate, or trying to find the happy medium to it," said Wright. "I’ve got a family to support so I’ve got to kind of decide what’s going to be best for me and best for my family."

Janet Waeschle has been working for Washington state for five years and said, "Personally, I think if you can get vaccinated you should be vaccinated and whatever incentives we need to put into place are a good idea."

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