Vaccine mandate for schools
Gov. Jay Inslee announced at an Aug. 18 press conference that he is expanding the statewide vaccine mandate to all K-12 public, charter and private schools, early learning and childcare programs and public and private college workers, including administrators, bus drivers, teachers and volunteers, who must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18.
There are exemptions; someone with medical reasons or sincerely held religious beliefs can petition against abiding by the mandate, and tribal schools are exempt.
Inslee said there will be a formal process of discharge starting Oct. 5 for employees who are not in compliance. “If you leave, the vast majority of people will not be eligible for unemployment compensation either, so people will be out of paycheck the day that they’re discharged,” Inslee said.
Inslee said that the policy change is due to rising COVID-19 infections and that testing has not been successful in preventing the spread. Over 85% of the state’s COVID-19 hospitalizations are among the unvaccinated population, Insee said.
“I’m convinced that we are at the point in this pandemic that, without these vaccine requirements, we will continue to be susceptible to new variants,” Inslee said.
Inslee said that around 2 million Washingtonians have not had a first dose but are 12 and older and thus eligible.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal said at the press conference that roughly 40,000-50,000 public school employees are unvaccinated.
Return to masking
Under Inslee’s orders, masks are now required in public spaces, such as restaurants, offices and shops, and for anyone in a public-facing setting, regardless of a person’s vaccination status.
The masking mandate doesn’t apply to vaccinated workers who do not have face-to-face interactions with the public. The mask mandate will also not apply to athletes in indoor sports when they’re actively engaged in a game or practice, rather than when they’re on the bench or sidelines.
According to the Washington State Department of Health, people younger than 5 or who have medical conditions that prevent mask-wearing are not required to follow the mandate.
Hospitalizations at an all-time high
According to an Aug. 19 press release from DOH, in August Washington broke its previous record for COVID-19 infections set in December 2020, during the third wave of the pandemic. The 7-day rolling average for COVID hospital admissions was 29 as of June 16 but by Aug. 6, the 7-day average for hospital admissions grew to 96 people. DOH also reported that hospitalizations are increasing among younger people, most notably between the ages of 20-39.
Samira George covers real people living real lives in the Puget Sound. Follow her on Twitter @samirakgeorge.
Read more of the Aug. 25-31, 2021 issue.