OLYMPIA, Wash., August 18, 2021 — Today, Gov. Jay Inslee instates new vaccine mandate – carrying legal penalties – requiring all public school staff members, including teachers, administrators, coaches, custodians, bus drivers, vendors, etc., to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by October 18th or face “formal discharge” without unemployment compensation.
Gov. Inslee stated that, in order to comply with the set date of the vaccine mandate, school employees and volunteers must begin the vaccination process immediately. According to Gov. Inslee, individuals must receive their second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or the single shot of the Johnson and Johnson, by October 4th.
In addition to the mandate regarding vaccines and education, Gov. Inslee also reinstated state-wide mask mandates for the general public. Vaccinated and non-vaccinated individuals will be required to wear masks in an indoor setting beginning Monday, August 23rd.
In the Conference Room
The conference stated at 2:30 p.m. today. It was initially scheduled to take place at Lincoln Elementary School but was moved to the governor’s press room hours before the conference began as a safety precaution for the community surrounding the school. The governor was joined by Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal and Secretary of Health Umair A. Shah, MD, MPH.
Gov. Inslee began his remarks by expressing his determination to keep businesses and schools open and keep the economy running. After noting the upcoming school year, Gov. Inslee spoke to the state’s current high infection rates, saying, “The pandemic disease levels are extremely high and exploding across our state, unfortunately.”
Gov. Inslee then gave his premise for the impending the legislation. “We can go back to the painful days of closing businesses and schools,” he says, “or we can use the known effective and safe tools at our disposal to keep our businesses and schools in operation.”
Upon voicing his adamant opposition to closing the state down again, he identified these tools against the virus as masks and vaccines — calling them “life-saving measures” and expressing his resolve to increase their use the spread of the delta variant.
“I’m announcing vaccine requirements for adults working or volunteering in K-12 schools,” he says. “As well as individuals employed in higher education, early learning, and childcare. Across the educational spectrum, we are extremely confident this will save lives — save the lives of our employees, and perhaps most importantly, saving lives of our children.”
Vaccine Mandate Details for School Staff and Volunteers
- This proclamation does not currently apply to students.
- There will be no test-out options available.
- Getting the vaccine will be a condition of employment.
- It is a safety requirement with the state.
- As previously mentioned, K-12 teachers, administrators, coaches, bus drivers, and other volunteers must be fully vaccinated by October 18th.
- It includes licensed and licensed exempt child-care early learning providers and facilities.
- It also includes adults and anyone else vaccine age-eligible who work in license-exempt early-learning childcare and after-school programs serving children with multiple households, like preschools and after-school programs.
- It does not include those providing family-friendly neighbor care, child services offered at on-sight religious organizations such as Sunday school, and it does not include tribal or federally licensed child-care programs.
- This also covers contractors who provide any goods or services at the facilities where children are present.
- The vaccine mandate includes private schools and charter schools as well.
- For higher education: staff, faculty, contractors, coaches, volunteers, and visitors must be fully vaccinated by October 18th.
The governor concludes listing these new requirements saying, “We estimate that this will impact about 118,000 workers in licensed and early-development childcare programs,” as well as an estimated “90,000 staff faculty and graduate students and other [higher education] employees.”
The official press release from today’s conference is available at governor.wa.gov.
The Rationale for a Vaccine and Mask Mandate
Speaking again to the rationale behind these measures, Gov. Inslee said, “these vaccines are incredibly effective,” calling them “medical miracles” that have “minimal side-effects.” Expressing his resolve to not gamble with the lives of students and education personnel, he stated that “these vaccines save lives,” citing how more than 95% of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state are among the unvaccinated.
Keeping Schools Open is the Priority
Following Gov. Inslee’s remarks, State Superintendent Chris Reykdal addressed the press. Supt. Reykdal threaded his statements with a determination to keep schools open. He first spoke to the urgency of the matter by saying, “we will expect folks to move expeditiously who do not have this unless they qualify for one of the exemptions, religious or medical.”
Before recalling the devastating effects of last year’s virtual school year, Supt. Reykdal reiterated that vaccines and masks are “the best way to keep schools open.”
Cautious yet hopeful, he continued saying, “We are accelerating learning again, and our goal here is safety first and foremost and retaining the opening of our schools and keeping them open. Shutdowns have impacts.”
“To educators all over the state, thank you for the work you’re doing,” he concluded.
“A Serious Situation”
Secretary of Health Umair A. Shah also spoke at the conference. Regarding the state’s current status, Sec. Shah said, “We have a serious situation right now. We are seeing a significant rise in cases, hospitalizations, and an increasing proportion — in fact, a vast majority — being due to the delta variant across our state.”
Speaking to the concerning reality of the state’s hospitals, he continued saying, “We are seeing staff shortages, hospitals trying to discharge patients early and divert patients from the care they need because they are simply too full to accept new ones. This is happening throughout our state.”
“This delta variant is a game-changer,” Sec. Shah said. “It is easily transmissible and is leading to the vast majority of our cases.”
Despite many Washingtonians getting vaccinated, Sec. Shah explains how these efforts, though commendable, are still insufficient. “While we were hoping people getting vaccinated would be enough, we have seen a few things happen. Though Washington is one of the top states when it comes to vaccinations in the country, with more than 8.3 million doses given out to more than 4.5 million Washingtonians, and that includes 4.1 million who are fully vaccinated — that’s still not enough people who’ve gotten vaccinated.”
“There are two million people above the age of 12 who have not started their vaccine series yet,” he said. “Now is the time. And those who are unvaccinated are unprotected and are truly helping drive up our serge.”
Sec. Shah also spoke about how the COVID-19 vaccines are safe, pointing to the billions of vaccines that have been administered across the globe. “Just today,” he said, “the Health Affairs Journal released a study, and I would ask you to look at it, where 100 thousand individuals have been saved — lives saved — across the U.S. because of vaccines.”
According to Sec. Shah, vaccinations are a necessary step, though the effects may not be immediate. “Vaccinations are absolutely the long-term path, but the effects take longer to see. Weeks or longer to see their impact,” he said. “People are getting sick today from the delta variant, which means we have no choice but to act sooner.”
State Superintendent Reykdal’s Letter to Gov. Inslee Requesting Vaccine Mandate
Gov. Inslee’s directive was petitioned by the state’s Supt. Reykdal earlier this month. Reykdal stated in a letter to the governor on August 12th, “I am strongly encouraging you to issue an executive order requiring all employees working in public K–12 schools to get their vaccination against COVID-19 as a condition of employment.”
Explaining why he believes such a directive is essential, Superintendent Reykdal said, “with the continued increase in cases of COVID-19 across our state due to the highly contagious Delta variant, students losing precious time learning in-person with their educators and peers because of quarantine or, potentially, school building closures is a real threat,” he wrote. “Especially after a year and a half of remote and hybrid learning, a continuity of in-person instruction will be more important this year than ever.”