Washington to implement indoor mask mandate, vaccine mandates for school employees

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) recently signed new executive orders implementing an indoor mask mandate across the state and requiring public school and higher education employees to be vaccinated, the Washington Examiner reported

The mask mandate will go into effect Monday and applies to every resident age 5 and up, regardless of vaccination status, in all public indoor spaces. Employees working in closed offices alone and spaces not accessible to the public are exempt.

The COVID-19 vaccine mandate applies to employees and volunteers in public, private, and charter schools and state-run colleges and universities. Those impacted by the mandate have until a deadline of Oct. 18 to comply, the Examiner notes.

Students of any age are not required to be vaccinated, even those 12 and above who are currently able to receive the Pfizer vaccine.

Inslee makes his move

“This virus is increasingly impacting young people, and those under the age of 12 still can’t get the vaccine for themselves,” Inslee said at a press conference announcing the move, according to the Examiner. “We won’t gamble with the health of our children, our educators, and school staff, nor the health of the communities they serve.”

Educators and school employees can apply for a medical or religious exemption from getting vaccinated but will face dismissal from their jobs unless they’re formally exempted.

“This is a serious issue,” Inslee said. “This is not a suggestion or some whimsical idea we’re floating. This is a job requirement.”

Some opposition

Most teachers unions have said they are willing to comply with the mandates, but Spokane Education Association president Jeremy Shay didn’t seem to think it was necessary to mandate vaccines. “We’ve shown that you don’t need to be vaccinated to run schools safely,” Shay said, suggesting alternatives like weekly testing for the unvaccinated. “We did it last year.”

New COVID-19 cases in the state are approaching the levels of the winter 2020 surge, and hospitalizations have exceeded previous highs because of the delta variant, which is more transmissible than the original virus strain.

At least 95% of the current hospitalizations are among unvaccinated people, and deaths are not anywhere near previous peak levels.

Of concern to state officials is the fact that ICU beds are reportedly filling up across the state, and staffing shortages have been exacerbated by the fact that more health care staff members are testing positive for the virus.

Still, it’s a radical step to force vaccines on employees, and it’s simply a bad decision to make vaccinated people wear masks even though a vast majority of them will not be at serious risk from the virus even if they do contract it, according to the latest data.

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