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Inslee orders state, health care workers to get vaccine

by CHARLES H. FEATHERSTONE
Staff Writer | August 10, 2021 1:03 AM

SEATTLE — Gov. Jay Inslee is ordering all state government employees and health care workers across Washington to become fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 18 or risk losing their jobs.

“This is a condition of further employment,” Inslee said Monday during a press conference at Kaiser Permanente’s Capitol Hill campus in Seattle. “This is a serious order and we’re going to follow it.”

The proclamation covers the roughly 60,000 state employees, 400,000 health care workers in Washington, as well as contractors and volunteers, Inslee said, and is intended to boost the state’s vaccination rate, which is currently hovering at just a little above 70%.

“We simply need more people to pull up their sleeves, literally,” Inslee said.

Inslee warned the COVID-19 pandemic has been on the rise in the last few weeks, largely due to the delta variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which the governor said is significantly more transmissible and more dangerous. He cited two recent funerals he attended for workers with the state Department of Corrections, noting state workers are “dedicated people” who “deserve our protection.”

Inslee said the goal of the vaccination mandate is to protect as many state residents as possible, and hopes the order will prompt companies across the state to also require their employees to get vaccinated. On Aug. 2, Kaiser Permanente, the nation’s largest nonprofit health care provider, announced it was requiring all of its employees and physicians to receive a COVID-19 vaccination.

“When we vaccinate state employees, we are protecting all of Washington by doing this,” Inslee said.

Under the order, there will be no test-out option and exemptions will be limited to those with valid existing health reasons and religious beliefs, and must be applied for and approved before they are granted.

The order also applies to state employees who are working remotely. Those who refuse to be vaccinated will face termination, though the state will work with public employee labor unions to ensure contract terms and civil service rules are followed.

However, Inslee also said he doesn’t want to fire anyone, and a lot has been invested in training state workers.

“They are valued people and they work hard,” he said.

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at cfeatherstone@columbiabasinherald.com.