Gov. Jay Inslee last week announced a reversal on the state’s mask policy, ordering masks to be worn indoors by everyone, whether vaccinated or not. As well, Inslee is requiring all employees in all schools, public and private, to be vaccinated.
The new mask requirement went into effect Monday, with the sole exceptions being in workplaces that are not broadly accessible or in small private events at which everyone is vaccinated. The date for school employees to be vaccinated is Oct. 18, with those not in compliance to be discharged from their jobs.
Inslee’s order for school employees includes all K-12 teachers, school staff, volunteers, bus drivers, and anyone working in school facilities. The order also affects higher-education staff and contractors and is a requirement for their qualification for employment. All schools in the state are affected except tribal schools.
At his press conference last week, Inslee was asked if he felt there would be an exodus of teachers out of education. “That should not happen,” Inslee said. “And we should talk to our teachers. We love them. We respect them. We need them. We should not allow them to make a decision that’s bad for their health and bad for our kids. So I think if we pull together as a state, we’re going to find relatively minimal problems in that regard.”
Inslee said that by Oct. 5 initial confirmations of vaccinations in schools will come in. “There will be a process that will involve days not months, where if people do not come in compliance, that they will be discharged and that will apply to all the personnel that are associated with this protocol… So this is a serious issue. This is not some suggestion or whimsical idea we’re floating. It is a job requirement, and people would be held to account by loss of job if they cannot come into compliance. But they can.”
Until today there was no way to require employees to say if they were vaccinated. “This order will change that,” Inslee said. “They will have to vaccinate and show verification, or they will have to seek one of the exemptions.” Those exemptions may be for medical or religious reasons. “This is not new to our school system. We have vaccine requirements for our students. And there’s a process for that. Local districts are the employers of these individuals. They know how to do this. Now they will do the verification, and they’ll do the checking and confirmations.”
Inslee said across the state more than 70 percent of school employees are vaccinated.
The total percentage of people vaccinated in Klickitat County altogether stands at less than 40 percent.