Gov. Jay Inslee speaks at a news conference Monday in Seattle, where he announces a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for Washington state employees and health-care workers. (Ken Lambert/The Seattle Times via AP)

Gov. Jay Inslee speaks at a news conference Monday in Seattle, where he announces a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for Washington state employees and health-care workers. (Ken Lambert/The Seattle Times via AP)

Governor will require state employees to get COVID vaccine

Workers must do so by mid-October to keep their jobs. The order also covers long-term care providers.

SEATTLE — Gov. Jay Inslee opened a new front in the battle against the deadly coronavirus Monday, ordering state employees and private health care workers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by mid-October — or they could lose their jobs.

Under the mandate, roughly 60,000 workers of the 24 state agencies under Inslee’s control — such as the departments of Corrections, Transportation, and Social and Health Services — must show proof of vaccination by Oct. 18 as a condition of employment. Failure to do so could result in dismissal.

The edict also applies to an estimated 400,000 employees of privately run providers of long-term care, such as nursing homes, adult family homes and assisted living facilities, as well as volunteers and others who find themselves on-site of those congregate care settings.

Public and private employers will need to verify each person’s vaccination status. Exemptions for religious or medical reasons will be available but not automatic, Inslee said. There will not be exemptions for personal or philosophical reasons.

And the order covers workers of private contractors operating on state property. It applies to small vendors and major construction outfits. Failure to comply could result in firms losing contracts, Inslee said at a news conference.

“We are in the middle of an explosive threat to our freedoms because of this disease,” Inslee said, referring to a surge in cases in every county, mostly due to the highly transmissible delta variant. He made the announcement at Kaiser Permanente in Seattle. The giant health care provider said last week it is making the vaccine mandatory for all employees and physicians.

New infections and hospitalizations are at levels similar to those early in the pandemic, when Inslee shuttered the economy and much of public life to blunt the disease’s spread.

“We do not want to do that again,” Inslee said of the restrictions. Vaccines are a safe, successful tool to prevent illness and avoid that course of action, he said.

“We know these things work,” he said. “We know it is a key to ending the pandemic.”

State workers who refuse to be vaccinated will be subject to “non-disciplinary dismissal” for failing to meet the qualifications of the job. If a person who is vaccinated refuses to provide proof, they too can be fired, according to the governor’s office.

The mandate does not apply to public schools and colleges. Nor does it cover members of boards and commissions, employees in the legislative and judicial branches, or staff in state agencies run by separately elected officials. Inslee encouraged legislative and elected officials to take similar action.

Some are.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson is requiring employees, volunteers and visitors to agency facilities to be vaccinated when staff begin returning to offices in September. For workers, the requirement is a “qualification of fitness for duty” for continued employment, according to a memo sent to staff last month.

Those with a health condition or “sincerely held religious belief that prevents them from getting vaccinated” may request an accommodation, according to the memo.

On Monday, state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler said he will require his 243 employees to be vaccinated by Oct. 18, in line with the governor’s executive order.

“I am pleased that 84% of the people at my agency have self-reported being fully vaccinated,” Kreidler said in a statement. “Vaccines are the only way we get back to life as we used to know it, and I am happy to do everything in my power to support that effort.”

Democratic legislative leaders applauded Inslee’s action and vowed to consider “additional COVID safety steps within the legislative branch” before the next session.

“State employees and health care providers serve the public. Being vaccinated with a safe, effective vaccine is a simple extension of that commitment,” House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, and Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said in a joint statement.

Their Republican counterparts said the governor went too far and “should show humility, listen to those who have concerns about the vaccine, and look to provide other options – including incentives.”

“Vaccinations can save lives and we have strongly encouraged people to get them. We have been vaccinated ourselves,” House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, and Senate Minority Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, said in a joint statement.

“But getting the vaccine is a personal health-care choice and should not be mandated by any level of government. Threatening to terminate someone’s job if they don’t comply with this requirement is heavy-handed and wrong.”

One union, representing state corrections workers, which is opposed to employer mandates, insisted the state must bargain the impact of the rules before they are implemented. There must be clear guidelines for exemptions, leaders said in a news release.

“Throughout this pandemic Teamsters have been placing their health and safety on the line to fuel our economy and keep our communities safe. The decision to mandate vaccines is a serious one and raises serious concerns.” said John Scearcy, Teamsters 117 secretary-treasurer. The union represents 17,000 public and private sector workers, including state corrections officers.

From left, state health Secretary Umair Shah, Gov. Jay Inslee, King County Executive Dow Constantine and Susan Mullaney, Kaiser Permanente regional president for Washington state, say goodbye to each other after a news conference where Inslee announced a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for Washington state employees and health-care workers on Monday in Seattle. (Ken Lambert/The Seattle Times via AP)

From left, state health Secretary Umair Shah, Gov. Jay Inslee, King County Executive Dow Constantine and Susan Mullaney, Kaiser Permanente regional president for Washington state, say goodbye to each other after a news conference where Inslee announced a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for Washington state employees and health-care workers on Monday in Seattle. (Ken Lambert/The Seattle Times via AP)

It wasn’t immediately clear how many of the targeted state workers will need to get vaccinated.

In Washington, roughly 70% of people 12 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine, state health officials said. It follows that roughly 70% of the 60,000 state workers covered by the order are likely vaccinated — though no one knows for certain, Inslee admitted. However, he said, in some agencies the percentage is under 50%.

“When we vaccinate state employees we protect the citizens we serve,” Inslee said. “We’re protecting all of Washington when we do this.”

Inslee’s spokeswoman said the governor has the authority to issue the blanket requirement under his emergency powers during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Washington’s mandate appears to be more stringent than those in other states with vaccination requirements for state or health care workers, according to a review of policies by The Associated Press.

In California, New York and Virginia, state workers must either be vaccinated or submit to weekly testing starting next month. 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.

The Biden administration is also acting. President Joe Biden has said 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. The Pentagon will require all military personnel to get the COVID-19 vaccine by Sept. 15.

Mandates are coming to local governments, too.

King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan joined Inslee to say they’ll impose similar rules on their county and city employees.

Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers isn’t ready to issue such a directive.

“The executive is always watching case rates very closely and will be parsing the details from today’s announcement to see what the county might do,” Kent Patton, Somers’s chief spokesman, said in an email. “We would definitely make an announcement if we plan to move in that direction.”

Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin is also watching the situation.

“While I am not considering a vaccination mandate at this time, it is my sincere hope that all city employees and residents will make the responsible decision and get vaccinated,” she said in an email.

And vaccine mandates are proliferating in the health care industry.

Besides Kaiser Permanente, hospitals operated by the University of Washington, Swedish and Virginia Mason Franciscan Health are also moving to make sure all their employees are vaccinated.

Providence, which operates several hospitals, including one in Everett, is requiring all employees to get vaccinated and show proof of vaccination by Sept. 30. Those unable to be vaccinated will face new protocols, such as enhanced COVID testing.

“Right now, vaccines are the only way to bring an end to the pandemic,” Susan Mullaney, president of Kaiser Permanente, said at the news conference.

Jerry Cornfield: jcornfield@heraldnet.com; @dospueblos

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Traffic idles while waiting for the lights to change along 33rd Avenue West on Tuesday, April 2, 2024 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Lynnwood seeks solutions to Costco traffic boondoggle

Let’s take a look at the troublesome intersection of 33rd Avenue W and 30th Place W, as Lynnwood weighs options for better traffic flow.

A memorial with small gifts surrounded a utility pole with a photograph of Ariel Garcia at the corner of Alpine Drive and Vesper Drive ion Wednesday, April 10, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Death of Everett boy, 4, spurs questions over lack of Amber Alert

Local police and court authorities were reluctant to address some key questions, when asked by a Daily Herald reporter this week.

The new Amazon fulfillment center under construction along 172nd Street NE in Arlington, just south of Arlington Municipal Airport. (Chuck Taylor / The Herald) 20210708
Frito-Lay leases massive building at Marysville business park

The company will move next door to Tesla and occupy a 300,0000-square-foot building at the Marysville business park.

Logo for news use featuring Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Oso man gets 1 year of probation for killing abusive father

Prosecutors and defense agreed on zero days in jail, citing documented abuse Garner Melum suffered at his father’s hands.

Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin steps back and takes in a standing ovation after delivering the State of the City Address on Thursday, March 21, 2024, at the Everett Mall in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
In meeting, Everett mayor confirms Topgolf, Chicken N Pickle rumors

This month, the mayor confirmed she was hopeful Topgolf “would be a fantastic new entertainment partner located right next to the cinemas.”

Alan Edward Dean, convicted of the 1993 murder of Melissa Lee, professes his innocence in the courtroom during his sentencing Wednesday, April 24, 2024, at Snohomish County Superior Court in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Bothell man gets 26 years in cold case murder of Melissa Lee, 15

“I’m innocent, not guilty. … They planted that DNA. I’ve been framed,” said Alan Edward Dean, as he was sentenced for the 1993 murder.

FILE - A Boeing 737 Max jet prepares to land at Boeing Field following a test flight in Seattle, Sept. 30, 2020. Boeing said Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023, that it took more than 200 net orders for passenger airplanes in December and finished 2022 with its best year since 2018, which was before two deadly crashes involving its 737 Max jet and a pandemic that choked off demand for new planes. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
Boeing’s $3.9B cash burn adds urgency to revival plan

Boeing’s first three months of the year have been overshadowed by the fallout from a near-catastrophic incident in January.

Police respond to a wrong way crash Thursday night on Highway 525 in Lynnwood after a police chase. (Photo provided by Washington State Department of Transportation)
Bail set at $2M in wrong-way crash that killed Lynnwood woman, 83

The Kenmore man, 37, fled police, crashed into a GMC Yukon and killed Trudy Slanger on Highway 525, according to court papers.

A voter turns in a ballot on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024, outside the Snohomish County Courthouse in Everett, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
On fourth try, Arlington Heights voters overwhelmingly pass fire levy

Meanwhile, in another ballot that gave North County voters deja vu, Lakewood voters appeared to pass two levies for school funding.

Judge Whitney Rivera, who begins her appointment to Snohomish County Superior Court in May, stands in the Edmonds Municipal Court on Thursday, April 18, 2024, in Edmonds, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Judge thought her clerk ‘needed more challenge’; now, she’s her successor

Whitney Rivera will be the first judge of Pacific Islander descent to serve on the Snohomish County Superior Court bench.

In this Jan. 4, 2019 photo, workers and other officials gather outside the Sky Valley Education Center school in Monroe, Wash., before going inside to collect samples for testing. The samples were tested for PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, as well as dioxins and furans. A lawsuit filed on behalf of several families and teachers claims that officials failed to adequately respond to PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, in the school. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Judge halves $784M for women exposed to Monsanto chemicals at Monroe school

Monsanto lawyers argued “arbitrary and excessive” damages in the Sky Valley Education Center case “cannot withstand constitutional scrutiny.”

Mukilteo Police Chief Andy Illyn and the graphic he created. He is currently attending the 10-week FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia. (Photo provided by Andy Illyn)
Help wanted: Unicorns for ‘pure magic’ career with Mukilteo police

“There’s a whole population who would be amazing police officers” but never considered it, the police chief said.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.