Inslee: No ‘massive disruptions’ as worker vax rates hit 90%

A surge in vaccinations has eased concern about service slowdowns ahead of a Monday deadline.

OLYMPIA — COVID-19 vaccination rates are surging in state agencies, erasing worries of widespread interruptions to government services ahead of next Monday’s deadline for workers to prove they are fully vaccinated to avoid losing their jobs.

Nearly 92% of employees had received the jab or obtained an accommodation as of Oct. 7, according to a report issued Monday by the state Office of Financial Management. Two weeks earlier the rate stood at 68.1%.

“The sky-high vaccination rates we’re seeing should settle any concerns. There will not be massive disruptions in state services,” Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement.

Of 61,821 workers covered in the report, 89.5% had been vaccinated or had completed the process of getting an exemption and accommodation. The rate rises to 91.9% once those with accommodations are removed from the total.

Inslee predicted higher vaccination numbers by the Oct. 18 deadline he set for employees of executive branch agencies to comply. The original directive implied workers could lose their jobs immediately. But agreements negotiated with unions create other paths, from unpaid leave to retiring, to avert termination.

“The first numbers gathered showed around 49 percent, now we are over 90 percent. The numbers show this strategy to increase vaccinations has been a great success,” Inslee said. “These high vaccination rates will continue to increase, and union-negotiated impacts will give more time to reconsider their choices as they take unpaid leave. “

At the Department of Corrections, 90.6% of 2,616 agency employees had been vaccinated. That figure doesn’t include those employed at the correctional facilities.

At the Monroe Correctional Complex, 88.4% of its 1,111 employees were vaccinated. Accommodations — which pertain to figuring out where an unvaccinated person could do their job and under what additional health and safety requirements — have proved hard to obtain, since it is likely many requests are from correctional officers.

Of 69 requests for religious exemptions, 53 were granted and 16 withdrawn. Of those 53, accommodations were granted for two and denied for 51. There have been 16 requests for medical exemptions, of which four were approved and one accommodation granted.

Figures for other state agencies include 88.5% for the Washington State Patrol, 86.8% at the Liquor and Cannabis Board, and 96% at the Department of Ecology.

At the Department of Social and Health Services, 90.8% of 9,854 employees were vaccinated, while the rate for the state Department of Transportation was 91.7% of its 6,608 workers.

While Inslee predicted limited impacts, the mandate is already affecting some services.

Washington State Ferries cancelled a number of sailings in recent days due to a lack of workers. Those crew shortages were largely caused by what one official described as a “perfect storm” of workers being sick with COVID-19, in close contact with ill people or unwilling to work under the governor’s vaccine mandate.

More than two dozen ferry workers have signed onto a lawsuit in Walla Walla County Superior Court against the mandate.

And several state ferry workers, educators and public safety employees who reside in Snohomish County are among more than 100 workers suing the governor and state agency heads over the requirement. That lawsuit was filed in federal court last week.

Jerry Cornfield: jcornfield@heraldnet.com; 360-352-8623; Twitter: @dospueblos

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