Washington Governor Mandates Vaccines For All School Employees; Strictest Rule In U.S.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) on Wednesday ordered all school employees statewide to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of employment, the strictest school mandate in the nation amid the troubling surge in new infections linked to the delta variant of the coronavirus.

The requirements will apply to teachers and personnel at any type of school — public, private or charter — as well as team coaches, bus drivers and volunteers. K-12 schools, most child care and early-learning centers, and higher education all fall under the mandate.

Those affected by the order will have until Oct. 18 to be fully vaccinated. The Seattle Times notes it will apply to about 363,000 workers (some people can be excluded for medical or religious reasons).

Inslee told reporters Wednesday that his decision came amid the latest surge of coronavirus cases, which are rising in every state in the nation, straining hospital systems and prompting dire warnings from public health officials for Americans who remain unvaccinated despite wide access to safe, effective inoculations. He added that 95% of those hospitalized in Washington are unvaccinated and that increased cases among children who are not yet eligible for a vaccine required the strict approach.

“It has been a long pandemic, and our students and teachers have borne their own unique burdens throughout,” Inslee said in a statement Wednesday. “This virus is increasingly impacting young people, and those under the age of 12 still can’t get the vaccine for themselves. We won’t gamble with the health of our children, our educators and school staff, nor the health of the communities they serve.”

Washington will also bring back an indoor mask mandate for everyone across the state, regardless of vaccination status, echoing its southern neighbor Oregon as well as other regions across the U.S. 

Inslee’s order is tougher than many other states that have instituted similar requirements for teachers or government employees. Most of those policies, like that in California issued by Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), allow people to opt for regular testing instead. Inslee said that wouldn’t be enough in Washington.

“We are well past the point where testing is enough to keep people safe,” Inslee said. “We tried it. It has not been adequate to the task at hand.”

Earlier this month, Inslee said most state and health care workers would be required to be vaccinated, also giving them until Oct. 18 to complete their course of inoculations.

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