OLYMPIA, Wash. — Gov. Jay Inslee is expanding the statewide COVID-19 vaccination mandate to all K-12 school employees as well as employees of the state's higher education institutions.
This means that educators, staff, coaches, bus drivers and school volunteers will have until Oct. 18 to be fully vaccinated or face losing their job.
The mandate makes Washington's school vaccine restrictions the strictest in the nation, according to Inslee's office. Only one other state, California, mandated vaccines for teachers, however, teachers may choose to undergo weekly COVID-19 testing instead. Inslee's mandate does not give school employees that option.
The mandate already applies to most state employees and health care workers.
Inslee also reinstated a mask mandate for indoor public spaces for everyone, regardless of vaccination status. The universal mask mandate will take effect Monday, Aug. 23.
The state’s vaccine mandate expansion includes public, private and charter schools but does not include any students or tribal schools.
Unions, like the Washington Educators Association (WEA), will be able to bargain with districts to negotiate time off to receive the vaccine and recover from the side effects, but there will be no option to test in lieu of the vaccine.
”We're going to look to the Department of Health to provide the guidance for what is best for our students and our educators. And we're optimistic that this will allow schools to remain open throughout the fall.,” said WEA President Larry Delaney.
Delaney said it's too soon to know if any teachers will quit as a result of the vaccine mandate.
The mandate expansion follows a request last week from the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal for Inslee to include K-12 school staff in the vaccination requirement plan.
The mandate is also being expanded to include employees in the state’s higher education system and most childcare and early learning providers.
Childcare providers that are not affected include those giving family, friends and neighbors (FFN) care.
Exemptions will be available based on legitimate medical reasons or genuine religious beliefs. Those who refuse to get vaccinated could face termination.
It’s not yet clear how the state will require school employees to proclaim their exemptions.
“This is not new to our school system, we have vaccine requirements for our students, and there’s a process for that, local districts are the employers of these individuals, they know how to do this, they will do the verification and the checking and confirmations,” Reykdal said.
The mandate expansion for school employees comes as schools around the state prepare to head back to in-person learning this fall with a universal mask mandate in place for all students and staff.
According to Reykdal in a previous press conference, the mandate will not affect school start dates for any districts.
President Joe Biden has also announced a vaccination mandate for all nursing home staff Wednesday.
Biden’s announcement is in response to federal data that shows hundreds of thousands of nursing home workers are not vaccinated against the virus despite being the earliest hotspots when the pandemic began.
Meanwhile, nearly 72% of Washington state’s eligible population had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as of Aug. 16, though health officials say that the number needs to increase in order to battle back the highly transmissible delta variant.