COVID-19 mandates return to Washington state

K-12 educators required to get vaccinated by Oct. 18; mask mandate comes back into effect next week

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JACQUI THOMASSON

Gov. Jay Inslee said he is not concerned about a mass exodus of education employees refusing to get vaccinated and advised that anyone with concerns about the vaccine should consult their doctor.

NICK GIBSON, Evergreen reporter

In a press conference Wednesday, Gov. Jay Inslee announced all Washington K-12 and higher education employees are required to get vaccinated, in addition to reinstating an indoor mask mandate for all Washingtonians.

All employees have until Oct. 18 to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 as a condition of their employment, or they may lose their jobs, Inslee said. This includes educators, bus drivers, coaches, volunteers and anyone else working in school facilities.

Effective Aug. 23, masks or face coverings will be required in all indoor settings statewide, regardless of an individual’s vaccination status. The Washington State Department of Health also strongly recommends masks in crowded outdoor gatherings such as concerts, fairs and sporting events. 

“It is heart-rending for us to see, losing our neighbors, our coworkers, our students, to a preventable disease,” Inslee said. “I’m convinced that we were at the point in this pandemic that without these vaccine requirements, we will be susceptible to new variants, so this is the right thing to do to save lives in the state of Washington.”

Inslee emphasized that in order to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18, individuals need to start the vaccination process as soon as possible and get their last dose no later than Oct. 4 to meet the deadline. 

Inslee said he is not concerned about a mass exodus of education employees refusing to get vaccinated and advised that anyone with concerns about the vaccine should consult their doctor. The governor’s office estimates the new policy will affect roughly 118,000 K-12 and early childcare employees and roughly 90,000 higher education employees across Washington state.

Chris Reykdal, Superintendent of Public Instruction, and Secretary of Health Umair A. Shah joined Inslee at the press conference and fielded questions regarding the state’s COVID-19 response. The vaccine mandate comes after Reykdal called on Inslee to require public education employees to get vaccinated, in line with Inslee requiring other state employees to get vaccinated last week.  

Reykdal said there are currently no plans to return to remote learning. However, if transmission rates and cases grow to an overwhelming amount, the state will have to close schools once again.  

“If we don’t vaccinate, if we don’t wear masks, if we don’t do as much as we can to respond when there are cases, that’s the natural result because nobody in the state of Washington is going to expect us to keep schools open,” Reykdal said. “What we do today matters; ‘we’ is greater than ‘me.’”

WSU will be fully complying with the statewide mandates, according to the Office of the Provost’s website. Starting August 23, masks are required on campus in indoor settings for all staff members, students and visitors, regardless of vaccination status. 

WSU’s highest-paid employee, football coach Nick Rolovich, told reporters Thursday afternoon that he plans on following the new vaccine mandate. Rolovich made headlines over the summer when he announced that he would not be getting the vaccine, citing reasons that “will remain private.”

“These have not been easy decisions,” Inslee said. “I’ve not relished making them, but I’m confident that they are based on science and preserving life and allowing our kids to go to school.“