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State mandate extends to 4-H volunteers, drawing objections

Staff Writer | September 9, 2021 1:03 AM

OLYMPIA — The requirement that all 4-H volunteers be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 18 has some legislators concerned about the future of the program.

Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, said the demand, which was included in a Sept. 3 letter from Washington State University Extension to all 4-H volunteers, comes at a difficult time, as county fair season is ending and local 4-H groups are beginning to prepare for next year.

“It will hurt our agricultural community and youth almost beyond repair in some places,” Warnick said. “I’m concerned we’ll lose volunteers as we organize for next year.”

The letter was signed by Vicki McCracken, associate dean of the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences and director of WSU’s Extension Program, and by Extension’s assistant director, Michael J. Gaffney. The letter says Gov. Jay Inslee’s proclamation ordering all state employees, contractors and volunteers to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 also covers all 4-H volunteers.

The state’s 4-H program is administered by WSU Extension.

“We are aware of the challenges and frustrations this imposes,” both McCracken and Gaffney wrote.

Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, described the order as a “massive overreach” of government and said it doesn’t make any sense. Schoesler cited an example of a volunteer 4-H judge of record books who contacted him because, despite having little contact with 4-H students, will have to be vaccinated.

“This is so far stupid I hate to even comment on it,” Schoesler said. “Where does it stop?”

Schoesler said he has started giving constituents who call to express their concerns about the vaccine and mask mandates Inslee’s email and contact information so they can let the governor know “enough is enough.”

Warnick said many of the volunteer leaders are parents, older siblings or close neighbors of current 4-H members and who are already living closely or regularly in contact with each other. She also said the 4-H pledge — which includes dedicating “my health to better living” — teaches and encourages health and safety.

Warnick is also concerned the expanding mandate will end up having the opposite effect — discouraging people from getting vaccinated.

“By pushing so hard, I may have constituents who have been thinking about getting vaccinated deciding not to because they don’t want to be told what to do,” Warnick said.

Both Warnick and Schoesler said they have been fully vaccinated but they did so because they were able to choose.

“I want to go to events. I want to meet people. I want to be able to recreate,” Schoesler said.