Gov. Jay Inslee today announced a vaccination requirement for employees working in K-12, most childcare and early learning, and higher education, as well as an expansion of the statewide mask mandate to all individuals, regardless of vaccination status. The governor was joined for the announcement by Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal and Secretary of Health Dr. Umair A. Shah.
Educator vaccine requirement
K -12 educators, school staff, coaches, bus drivers, school volunteers and others working in school facilities will have until October 18 to be fully vaccinated as a condition of employment. The requirement includes public, private and charter schools, and comes as schools across the state prepare to return for the 2021–2022 school year amid rapidly increasing case and hospitalization numbers. This does not impact students, regardless of age.
“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.”
“As our school buildings reopen this fall for in-person learning, vaccination of our school employees will be a key mitigation measure to protect the health and safety of our students, staff, and families,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal. “Our ability to maintain continued in-person learning without major COVID-related disruptions will depend on low virus transmission within our schools. I appreciate the governor’s leadership in taking this important step in the fight against the spread of this virus.”
As with state employees and private healthcare 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.
Higher education and childcare/early learning
Inslee also announced a vaccine requirement for employees in Washington’s higher education institutions, as well as for most childcare and early learning providers who serve children from multiple households.
Education staff, faculty and contractors are required to be fully vaccinated by October 18, consistent with the state worker vaccination requirement timeline.
Childcare providers affected by the requirement include the following groups
Licensed, certified and contracted early learning and childcare programs
License-exempt early learning, childcare and youth-development programs
Contractors (coaches, volunteers, trainers, etc.)
Not included in this mandate are providers delivering FFN (family, friends and neighbors) care.
Statewide mask mandate
The governor also announced that the existing statewide mask mandate will be expanded to once again include vaccinated individuals in indoor settings effective Monday, August 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.
“In Washington we continue to see an increase of cases, hospitalizations,” said Umair A. Shah, MD, MPH, Secretary of Health. “Vaccines are safe and effective, but they take time to work. As our vaccination efforts continue, we are asking the public to take additional protections to help slow the spread of COVID in communities. Wearing a mask helps to protect yourself and each other.”
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.
“We have seen over the last year how widespread masking also saves lives by reducing infection,” Inslee said. “I know this will frustrate some vaccinated folks who thought they wouldn’t have to do this anymore. There are not enough people vaccinated. The result is the explosive growth of a much more infectious strain, the Delta variant, and its increasingly concerns impacts on people of all ages.”
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.