Gov. Jay Inslee Wednesday 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 everyone, regardless of vaccination status.
The governor was joined for the announcement by state schools chief Chris Reykdal and Secretary of Health Dr. Umair A. Shah.
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 2021–22 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.”
Inslee also announced a vaccine requirement for employees in the state’s higher education institutions, as well as for most childcare and early learning providers who serve children from multiple households.
Reykdal added: “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. “Our ability to maintain continued in-person learning without major COVID-related disruptions will depend on low virus transmission within our schools.”
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.
“Going back to remote learning because of quarantine or school building closures due to COVID-19 transmission is a real threat this school year,” Reykdal said.
The governor also announced that the existing statewide mask mandate will be expanded to once again include vaccinated individuals in indoor settings.
The expansion comes after Washington recently broke the previous record for COVID hospitalizations set in December.
“Vaccines are safe and effective, but they take time to work,” Shah said.
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.
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.