At a press conference on Monday afternoon, state, county, and city leaders announced that government employees and private health care workers in Washington must be fully vaccinated by October 18 or else they must hit the fuckin' road, i.e. face "non-disciplinary dismissal."
The mandate will apply to about half a million people in the state, including about 400,000 health care workers, 60,000 state workers, thousands of workers who contract with the state, over 13,000 King County employees, and nearly 10,000 Seattle employees.
The vaccine mandate does not include employees at K-12 schools or colleges, nor any members/staff working for the legislative and judicial branches, though the governor encouraged the leaders of those institutions to step up.
The mandate will also include a religious loophole, so expect people to start finding very particular kinds of Jesuses, if only to add to the gallery of numbskulls offering deathbed confessions to journalists.
Given the wide availability of vaccines statewide, and given the fact people can achieve inoculation in five weeks at the latest, mid-October seems a little late for a deadline, especially with school starting up at the beginning of next month and with Delta ripping through the unvaccinated population already. But who needs urgency in the middle of another wave of infections? Not some unions, apparently.
In any event, the government and health care facilities will not allow workers to take frequent COVID-19 tests in lieu of getting vaccinated because that policy costs $66 million and has not been shown to reduce infection, according to the governor's office.
During a press conference two weeks ago, Inslee signaled he might impose this mandate. Though he recommended masking indoors regardless of vaccination at that time, he is not issuing a mask requirement right now. However, he said "if trends continue we will have to take action one way or another" to slow the spread.
Inslee, King County Executive Dow Constantine, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, Kaiser Permanente regional president Susan Mullaney, and state and county public health officials made the latest announcement at the Kaiser Permanente on Capitol Hill Monday afternoon, a couple weeks after New York and California instituted similar mandates. Last Friday, Swedish and Virginia Mason Franciscan Health joined the University of Washington Medicine hospitals in mandating vaccines.
"We have essentially a new virus at our throats," Inslee said, mentioning the recent rise infection rates. "We’re in the middle of an explosive threat to our freedom because of this disease. We want the freedom of not having to shut down our economy again."
"The reason we are in this pickle today is because about 30% of eligible residents so far have chosen not to get this life-saving vaccine," he added. "We simply need more people to roll up their sleeves, literally, and help pull on this rope."
Inslee also thanked the hospital for operating on his foot in the 1960s. "It worked out well," he said.
King County Executive Dow Constantine said the county will "mirror" the state mandate in an effort to get the remaining 20% of its workforce vaccinated by the middle of October.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said the same mandate will apply in the city. She called Seattle the "safest city in America," with over 82% of residents vaccinated against the disease. The city hasn't reported a COVID death since July 11.
Washington state health secretary Umair Shah praised the mandates, saying our health care system is "under immense strain as the Delta variant is now at least 85% of our cases." He added that vaccines as well as wearing masks indoors will help end this pandemic.
Public Health Seattle & King County health officer Dr. Jeff Duchin said requiring the vaccines was "absolutely the right thing to do to protect patients, and health care workers themselves, their families, and their communities."
In a statement, the Washington Federation of State Employees said it "will bargain the impacts of any vaccine mandate policies to ensure that public service heroes of this pandemic are treated fairly.”
The Washington State Labor Council reaffirmed its support for "reimposing mask mandates in indoor public places" but said "the council will be guided by its affiliated unions on how best to protect the rights and livelihoods of individual members with health, religious, or other legitimate reasons for not getting vaccinated."
Pointing to seat belts and other health and safety requirements, Inslee said the state "clearly" retained the power to institute the vaccine mandate with certain health and religious exemptions but will bargain any impacts "if the unions want to have that discussion."
No word just yet on whether Seattle will follow NYC's lead on a vaccine passport idea for indoor activities, though many local businesses are thankfully requiring patrons to flash a vax card before entry.