Inslee orders mandatory vaccinations for state employees, health workers

— Created August 11, 2021 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

Washington state employees, workers in private health care and long-term care facilities must be fully vaccinated against COVID by Oct. 18 or they will lose their jobs.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced the latest order Monday at a press conference held at Kaiser Permanente in Seattle. Some cities and counties are following suit, such as the City of Seattle and King County, which are ordering all employees to get vaccinated or risk losing their jobs. The order applies to executive cabinet agencies but Inslee encouraged those in higher education, local governments and organizations and businesses in the private sector to do the same. It does not apply to public K-12 schools.

“It is the mission of public servants and those providing health care to serve our fellow Washingtonians. These workers live in every community in our state, working together and with the public every day to deliver services,” Inslee said. “We have a duty to protect them from the virus, they have the right to be protected, and the communities they serve and live in deserve protection as well.”

Inslee said this is a necessary step to increase the vaccination rate in the state in hopes of stopping the spread of COVID-19’s Delta variant and overwhelming the state’s hospitals. He hinted the vaccination mandate is also an attempt to prevent a return to tighter restrictions.

“We’re in the middle of an explosive threat to our freedoms because of this disease,” he said. “We want the freedom of not having to shut down our economy again; we want the freedom of not having to wear masks sometime in the future; we want the freedom of our children not having to worry about getting this disease; and we want the freedom for everyone to live without having to think of the COVID virus. We know there is only one path to that freedom and that is through more Washingtonians getting this safe, effective, successful vaccine.”

There are limited exemptions allowed under the new requirement, such as those with legitimate medical reasons or sincerely held religious beliefs, but applications must be made for the exemption to be considered. Those with personal or philosophical objections will not be exempt. The test-out option for state employees has also been eliminated.

Employees who refuse to be vaccinated will be dismissed for failing to meet legal job requirements. The state will adhere to civil service and collective bargaining rules.

According to health officials, the majority of new cases of COVID-19 are a result of the Delta variant infecting the unvaccinated.

“Unfortunately we still have far too many of our fellow Washingtonians who have not gotten their vaccine thus far,” said Secretary of Health, Dr. Umair Shah. “They are not just unvaccinated, they are unprotected and they’re a big reason why our state is once again seeing a dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases. We’re not just seeing a rise in cases, but our health care system is under immense strain as the Delta variant is now at least 85 percent of our cases and our modeling shows that to be over 95 percent.

“Let me be clear,” Shah continued. “Our rise in cases is largely due to those people not getting vaccinated. But the decision not to get vaccinated is now impacting others as well. Vaccines, along with other measures such as wearing masks indoors are key to ending this pandemic. “

Case rates are going up in Island County as well. Island County Public Health reported 147 new cases between July 29 and August 5 and officials at WhidbeyHealth told Whidbey Weekly they are seeing the same trend and the positivity rate of those being tested at WhidbeyHealth facilities is up to 14 percent.

“The county and state are currently continuing to grow in case counts,” said Conor O’Brien, marketing manager for WhidbeyHealth. “State Department of Health reported over 800 currently active cases in the state – and that number is growing exponentially.

“December 2020 had the highest number of cases in a month within the pandemic,” O’Brien continued. “August 2021 could easily pass that mark if the rapid rise in cases continues.”

O’Brien said there were seven positive COVID cases in the emergency department over the weekend and 10 total positive cases reported over the weekend. ICU capacity is at two-thirds, but officials could not say how many of those in ICU were there due to COVID-related illness.

Of 73,601 Island County residents eligible to receive a vaccine, 46,074 – about 63 percent – have received at least one dose.

Island County Public Health will be offering free vaccinations this weekend at the Coupeville Arts and Crafts Festival from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Vaccinations will also be offered from 3 to 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Camano Farmers Market at the Camano Commons. Public Health Director Keith Higman will be at the Camano Farmers Market from 4 to 6 p.m. as well to answer questions about COVID and COVID vaccines. Vaccinations will also be offered Tuesday, Sept. 7 at the Whidbey Island Campus of Skagit Valley College from 2 to 7 p.m.

Figures on the latest number of infections is posted every Thursday at