Gov. Jay Inslee announced Wednesday that all employees in K-12 and higher education will be required to be fully vaccinated by mid-October. Inslee also announced an expansion of the statewide indoor mask mandate to all individuals, regardless of vaccination status.
In response to rapidly rising COVID-19 hospitalizations, Inslee said during an Aug. 18 press conference that all 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 vaccine requirement includes public, private and charter schools, and comes as schools statewide prepare to return for the 2021-22 school year. Inslee said the inoculation mandate does not impact students, regardless of age. Some exceptions can be made for medical or religious reasons, the governor added.
As with state employees and private health are 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. Just like the state worker mandate, there are limited exceptions under law which employees may apply for, including legitimate medical reasons and sincerely held religious beliefs. Individuals who refuse to get vaccinated will be subject to dismissal.
Inslee was joined by Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal and state Secretary of Health Dr. Umair A. Shah.
“It has been a long pandemic, and our students and teachers have borne their own unique burdens throughout,” Inslee said. “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 also announced a vaccine requirement for employees in Washington’s higher education institutions, as well as for most child care and early learning providers who serve children from multiple households.
In a statement released Wednesday, Edmonds School District Superintendent Gustavo Balderas said the district will be enforcing the governor’s mandate and encouraged all who are eligible to be vaccinated.
While some may not be able to receive the vaccine for health or religious reasons, Balderas said students’ safety is the district’s priority.
“We are first and foremost here for our students,” he said. “They are why our staff get up each day. It is our job to provide a safe learning environment so our learners can develop socially, emotionally and academically. To do that in the shadow of a pandemic is challenging.”
The governor also announced that the state’s existing mask mandate will be expanded to once again include vaccinated individuals in indoor settings effective Monday, Aug. 23.
The expansion comes after Washington recently broke the previous record for COVID hospitalizations set in December. Every county in the state currently falls within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) substantial or high transmission, and each of the state’s 35 local health officers recently recommended all individuals wear masks indoors.
The mask mandate will apply to most all public places across the state, including restaurants, grocery stores, malls and public-facing offices, regardless of vaccination status.
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.
While not required, the Department of Health strongly recommends individuals also wear masks in crowded outdoor settings, such as outdoor concerts, fairs and farmers markets.