OLYMPIA – Monday is the last day for thousands of workers in Washington who want to keep their jobs to prove they have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Washington’s vaccination mandate, issued by Governor Jay Inslee in August, is said to be among the strictest in the country and covers more than 800,000 workers.
The mandate applies to most state employees, long-term care employees, teachers, and staff in state schools, including state colleges and universities. The only opt-out option is a medical or religious exemption, although the exemption only guarantees continued employment if a work arrangement can be made.
Recent figures show that a large majority of employees covered by the warrant have been vaccinated, but state officials have said the total figure will not be known for days or weeks as agencies work through requests for exemptions and work arrangements and that some workers may ultimately provide an audit. before the end of the day.
A Thurston County judge on Monday denied a latest effort by dozens of public sector workers who filed a lawsuit to block the warrant.
Justice Carol Murphy noted that the hearing did not focus on the merits of the case, but on whether the plaintiffs were likely to succeed. In denying the injunction request, she said the warrant was likely to be considered a valid use of the governor’s emergency powers.
“It is not at all surprising that the people of Washington do not agree with the political actions of the governor,” she said during her oral ruling from the bench a few minutes after the end of the arguments. “It is also not surprising that other lawmakers and policymakers and other Washington residents believe that no answer or a different answer is appropriate. These questions are not in court.”
Nathan Arnold, an attorney for the plaintiffs, argued that there was no consistency in the policy, noting that different places – like schools in Spokane – made accommodations like masking or testing and allowed people to keep their jobs when others did not. He said requiring those with sincere religious beliefs and health problems to lose their jobs if housing cannot be provided does not help the governor’s goal of increasing immunizations.
“We will have the same number of unvaccinated people at midnight, we will just have fewer nurses and fewer firefighters,” he said.
Inslee spokesman Mike Faulk said a wide range of services in Washington, including public safety and health care, “have all been severely disrupted for over a year now by the impacts. of the COVID pandemic “.
“Vaccination is safe and effective, and it is the best tool we have to end this disruption and get out of this crisis,” he said in a statement.
About 61,000 are employees of the 24 state agencies that are part of Governor Jay Inslee’s executive cabinet are required to be vaccinated. This includes the departments of Corrections, Transportation, and Health and Social Services, as well as the Washington State Patrol. Vaccination will also be a requirement for any entrepreneur willing to work with the state.
Of the remainder of the staff covered by the mandate, approximately 400,000 are health care workers, 155,000 are in kindergarten to 12th grade, 118,000 work in child care and early learning and 90,000 in the ‘Higher Education.
The governor’s financial management office released updated figures last week that show nearly 90 percent of the 61,821 state officials covered by the warrant were vaccinated in early October.
Washington State Ferries spokesman Ian Sterling said Monday afternoon that the transit agency had around 200 employees who had yet to validate their vaccination status, estimating that around 87% of employees were vaccinated.
More than 1,500 employees have benefited either from a medical or religious exemption and have been accommodated by their agencies, according to the state, which brings the vaccination rate of non-housed employees to 92%.
1,541 others received medical or religious exemptions, but were denied a work accommodation, and more than 1,000 accommodation requests were pending.
The Washington State Hospital Association has said that about 88% of hospital staff in Washington statewide are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Several hospitals allow employees who have started the vaccination process to take time off work if their final vaccination status is not complete until after the deadline, so the final numbers will only be known for weeks.
Katy Payne, a spokesperson for the Office of the Superintendent of Public Education, said data from districts on the vaccine and exemption status of their staff would begin to be collected on Tuesday and the agency would have information to share. at the end of the month.
As of this week, more than 77% of people aged 12 and over have started immunizations in Washington state and more than 71% are fully immunized.
There have been more than 614,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 – plus about 80,000 “probable” cases – in Washington state and 8,234 deaths.