Vaccinated or not, you will soon need to wear a mask indoors again in Washington.
And if you work at a school, community college or child care center, you are going to have to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by mid-October, or you could lose your job.
Gov. Jay Inslee announced those sweeping changes Wednesday (Aug. 18) in response to an unyielding surge in coronavirus cases across the state that is overtaxing, and in some communities overwhelming, the health care system.
Starting Aug. 23, the governor is reimposing a requirement that masks be worn by everybody, regardless of vaccination status, in retail stores, restaurants and other public indoor settings. Children under the age of 5 and people with medical conditions that prevent wearing a face covering are exempt.
For weeks, public health experts and elected leaders have warned that old COVID restrictions might need to be revived to slow the virus’ fifth wave, which is filling hospital beds statewide.
The vaccine mandate for educators comes as more than a million students prepare to return to classrooms and lecture halls for the new school year.
In elementary and secondary schools, the requirement applies to teachers, staff, coaches, bus drivers, lunch room volunteers and others working in school facilities. It covers public, private and charter schools but not tribal schools. And it does not apply to students.
Inslee’s order also applies to employees of two- and four-year colleges, as well as workers in child care and early learning providers that serve children from multiple households.
Under the mandate, workers will have until Oct. 18 to be fully vaccinated as a condition of employment. People can obtain exemptions for legitimate medical reasons and sincerely held religious beliefs. There will be no option for regular testing in lieu of vaccination.
The mandate is identical to the one Inslee issued Aug. 9 for roughly 60,000 state employees and 400,000 workers in public and private health care settings. They, too, have an Oct. 18 deadline to either get vaccinated or get an exemption.
At that time, other statewide elected officials, such as the attorney general, insurance commissioner and state auditor, adopted the same requirement for their employees.
On Aug. 12, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal sent Inslee a letter “strongly encouraging” the governor to expand the state worker vaccine mandate to include public school employees.
School districts which fail to comply with the state rules requiring students and staff to wear masks on campus could face a loss of state dollars, Reykdal has said.