Gov. Inslee mandates vaccines for educators and staff, orders all vaccinated to mask up

Aug 18, 2021, 2:37 PM | Updated: 3:56 pm
school, washington, mandate...
Third grade students practice grammar at the Green Mountain School on Feb. 18, 2021 in Woodland, Washington. (Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images)
(Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

In a sign of the growing concern over the escalating spread of the COVID-19 delta variant and the increasing strain it has put on Washington’s health care system, Governor Jay Inslee approved a requested mandate from state Superintendent Chris Reykdal to require all K-12 public school teachers be vaccinated — with limited exceptions for medical or religious reasons — or risk losing their job.

The mandate from the governor also applies to private and charter school staff statewide.

“In the state of Washington, one in 14 people has gotten COVID and more of them are getting it. One in 19 of those people will end up in a hospital based on our last 18 months of experience. One out of five people who end up in the hospital lose their life,” Reykdal explained last week in making his public request for Gov. Inslee to mandate vaccinations for school staff.

“There is turbulence ahead and we can see it in the data and the research, we can see it when we don’t follow mask orders. We can see it when we don’t vaccinate. In states with low vaccination rates, the cases are exploding, hospitalizations are up, and loss of life is increasing. And we can see that coming if we don’t take additional steps,” Reykdal warned.

For K-12 workers, the mandate includes:

  • K-12 educators, school staff, coaches, bus drivers, school volunteers and others working in school facilities will have until Oct. 18 to be fully vaccinated as a condition of employment.
  • The requirement includes public, private, and charter schools, and comes as schools across the state prepare to return for the 2021-2022 school year amid rapidly increasing case and hospitalization numbers.
  • It does NOT include tribal schools.
  • It does NOT impact students, regardless of age.
  • As with state employees and private health care workers, there will be no test out option.
  • Unions may bargain with school districts to negotiate time off to receive the vaccine or recover from symptoms of the vaccine.

Inslee went much further than the initial request from Reykdal though, also extending the vaccine mandate to those working in the state’s higher education system, as well as for most child care and early learning providers who serve children from multiple households.

All educators, staff and volunteers will have until Oct. 18, 2021, to be fully vaccinated or face dismissal, unless they qualify for the allowed limited exemptions.

The same timeline will apply for affected child care and early learning employees, which includes the following groups:

  • Licensed, certified, and contracted early learning and child care programs
  • License-exempt early learning, child care and youth-development programs
  • Contractors (coaches, volunteers, trainers, etc.

Providers delivering Family, Friends and Neighbors care are not included.

Expanded statewide mask mandate

The governor is not stopping with the education system in his efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19.

On top of all the new vaccination requirements, Gov. Inslee also is expanding the current indoor mask mandate for all unvaccinated people in the state to also now include those who are vaccinated. The expanded mandate will take effect Aug. 23. That means come Monday, everyone in the state will be required to wear a mask in most indoor settings, regardless of vaccination status.

Gov. Inlsee stopped short of mandating masks outdoors, but the Washington State Department of Health is strongly recommending we all also wear masks in crowded outdoor settings, such as outdoor concerts, fairs, and farmers markets, which are causing super-spreader events.

There will be limited exceptions when face coverings won’t be required, such as office spaces not easily accessible to the public where individuals are vaccinated, and when working alone indoors, or in a vehicle with no public face-to-face interaction. Small, private indoor gatherings where all attendees are vaccinated are also exempt.

Where COVID case rates, hospitalizations are highest in Washington

The announcements Wednesday come amid a surge of COVID cases fueled by the fast spreading delta variant, which is now blamed for every county in the state falling within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “substantial” or “high” transmission categories.

The variant is also blamed for stretching Washington hospitals to the limit and causing ICUs to fill up. In fact, state health officials say Washington recently broke its COVID hospitalization record that was set in December.

Follow Hanna Scott on Twitter or email her here

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Gov. Inslee mandates vaccines for educators and staff, orders all vaccinated to mask up