Serving Franklin County, WA

Gov. Inslee mandates vaccines for educators, school workers

Mask requirement reinstated for businesses, offices, indoors

OLYMPIA - If you work, volunteer or contract with a daycare, public school district, state community college or university, roll up your sleeve.

Under a new gubernatorial proclamation Wednesday, Aug. 18, everyone working at a daycare, public school district, community college or university in the state will be required to be fully vaccinated prior to Oct. 18 or lose their job, and possible unemployment benefits.

Gov. Inslee also issued a new order requiring everyone to cover their faces when indoors in public and commercial locations, including government buildings (including schools), restaurants, stores and other venues where people may be in close proximity. That order is in effect starting Monday, Aug. 23.

The governor cited "exponential growth" of the Delta variant of the Wuhan coronavirus- formerly called the India variant, which was present in that country last October - as the reason for the new mandates.

"It's because not enough people are getting vaccinated," Inslee said of his new orders. "We are addressing it today by taking action that is fundamentally necessary."

The governor's mandate requiring vaccination of educational employees and volunteers stems from a request last week from state Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal, who joined Gov. Inslee during the press conference. It also follows the governor's previous requirement that all other state employees be vaccinated.

Without the vaccine mandate, public schools may face coronavirus-related shutdowns again during the 2021-22 school year, Reykdal said.

State Health Secretary Dr. Umair Shah said residents and visitors should get vaccinated to help prevent such shutdowns.

According to Shah, 4.1 million residents are fully vaccinated statewide; the U.S. Census estimates the state's 2021 population at approximately 7.8 million residents.

That means the state's actual full-vaccination rate is approximately 52.6%. East of the Cascades, the rate is much lower, with some counties showing a fully vaccinated rate below 30%, according to state figures.

Shah noted that both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals are getting the virus, hence the reason for requiring inoculated individuals to also cover their faces.

"Protect yourself and those around you by wearing a mask indoors, and even outdoors, if you are in a crowded setting," he said. "Masks and vaccines together we know work better."

Gov. Inslee said that the new proclamation is a "legally binding document," that requires employers to return to policing their workers and customers; and school districts, community colleges and universities to monitor employees, volunteers and coaches.

"This is a legally binding order and it will be enforced in full," he said, claiming the order is "necessary."

Gov. Inslee downplayed concern that education employees could resign en masse if required to get a vaccine.

"It is our hope, and grounded belief, that once people think about this, they are going to choose to stay in these incredibly important careers," he said, adding: "If they do not come into compliance, they will be discharged. This is a serious issue. This is not some suggestion; it is a job requirement. "

Reykdal noted the new order requires public school districts to demand vaccination of employees, contractors or volunteers. That includes substitute teachers, bus drivers, coaches and others.

He estimated that at least 70% of public school, community college and university employees are already vaccinated.

Staff losses

He, too, downplayed a possibility of staff shortages due to resignations or terminations, noting in some cases administrative-level employees may have to be back in a classroom.

Gov. Inslee said he is "extremely hopeful" few education employees leave.

"Ultimately, they're going have to ask themself am I going to abandon this whole career for a safe vaccine," the governor said. "People will be out a paycheck the day they are discharged."

The governor added that most will also not be likely for unemployment benefits, should they resign or be terminated for refusing to get vaccinated.

"The school districts will not have a choice in this, he said. "The discharge process that will start on Oct. 5 will be required by the state of Washington, but effectuated by the school districts."

In other words, the state will require local school district officials to terminate anyone who has not started on a two-shot vaccination regimen or who hasn't made arrangements to receive a single-shot vaccine.

Inslee encouraged education employees to talk to their doctor about getting vaccinated before deciding to leave their jobs.

"Don't listen to all this baloney you're hearing on the internet," he said, noting too many people are believing "ridiculous information."

The governor threatened further restrictions if more people don't get vaccinated and the viral spread doesn't slow.

"This may not be the end of our efforts if this pandemic continues," Inslee said.

The governor didn't rule out new requirements on masks in outdoor venues, limiting attendance at sporting events and even shutting businesses back down.

"We are hopeful that these measures will restrain the pandemic. If they don't we'll have to look at other tools," he said.

Dr. Shah added that there is "a strong recommendation" for wearing a mask in outdoor venues, as well. "No requirement; it's a strong recommendation."

1st Amendment right

As the press conference was continuing, more than 150 anti-masking protests were breaking out across the state.

East of the Cascades, the parent-planned protests were taking place in towns as small as Odessa and cities as large as Spokane, the second largest city in the state.

Some protests, like those slated for Cheney and Ritzville, were a bust with only a handful of people showing up. Others, like the one that took place in the small city of Colfax, drew well near 200 people to the edge of downtown.

Gov. Inslee said those protesters have a 1st Amendment right to voice their opinion on masks and vaccines.

Reykdal, however, said protesters shouldn't take their objections to local school boards and local school administrators.

Reykdal said there are 1,477 elected school board members statewide who have "clear legal authority over the, sort of details, of educational delivery," he said. "But they are not elected to run public health systems...

"What they ought not do is go to school boards and ask them to do something that is not in control of school boards and school directors.

"You're local school board is not making this decision, whether it is mask or vaccines."

Inslee backed him up.

"For people who disagree with some of these requirements, the school boards or principals are not the place to take these complaints because they do not have authority to alter this requirement," Inslee said, saying parents should contact him. "The school boards just simply do not have the authority to alter them."

Editor's note: At posting, protests were still under way in several areas of the state.

Author Bio

Roger Harnack, Publisher

Author photo

Roger Harnack is the co-owner/publisher of Free Press Publishing. Having grown up Benton City, Roger is an award-winning journalist, photographer, editor and publisher. He's one of only two editorial/commentary writers from Washington state to ever receive the international Golden Quill. Roger is dedicated to the preservation of local media, and the voice it retains for Eastern Washington.


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