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Here’s what you need to know about Washington’s new vaccine mandate

UPDATED: Wed., Aug. 11, 2021

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee wears a face mask as he concludes a news conference, Tuesday, June 23, 2020, at the Capitol in Olympia.  (Ted S. Warren)
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee wears a face mask as he concludes a news conference, Tuesday, June 23, 2020, at the Capitol in Olympia. (Ted S. Warren)
By Arielle Dreher and Laurel Demkovich The Spokesman-Review

Washington’s effort to boost vaccine rates has turned into mandates for state employees and health care workers.

But the move affecting nearly a half million employees also raised many questions.

Here are a few answers:

What is the requirement?

Any worker engaged in work for a state agency in the governor’s cabinet and workers in private health care settings is required to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18.

According to Inslee’s proclamation, a person is considered “fully vaccinated” two weeks after receiving the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or two weeks after the single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. That means employees must receive their final dose of a vaccine by Oct. 4.

Employees must show proof of vaccination to their employer by Oct. 18 or face the loss of their job. As proof of vaccination, state and health care company employees may show a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 vaccination record card or picture of one, documentation from a health care provider or a state immunization information system record.

“Personal attestation is not an acceptable form of verification of COVID-19 vaccination,” according to the proclamation.

There is no option for frequent COVID-19 testing instead of vaccination.

Who does it apply to?

The proclamation applies to all employees of the governor’s 24 executive cabinet agencies and 30 small cabinet agencies. Inslee estimated Monday about 60,000 state employees fall into this category. It also includes independent contractors, service providers or volunteers on state property.

It also applies to health care providers or employees in health care settings. The proclamation defines “health care provider” as anyone required by state law to have credentials to provide health care services, or anyone who is permitted to provide health care services but doesn’t need credentials and long-term care workers.

Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah said Monday he estimated about 400,000 health care employees would fall under this mandate.

A health care setting, according to the proclamation, is “any public or private setting that is primarily used for the delivery of in-person health care services to people.” Those include hospitals, long-term care centers, rehabilitation centers, behavioral health centers, nursing homes and assisted living facilities and mobile clinics.

The list also includes outpatient clinics and doctors’ and dentists’ offices, mental health centers, pharmacies, massage therapy and chiropractic offices, midwifery practices, hospices and more.

Who does it not apply to?

The mandate does not apply to employees in education, legislative, judicial employees or those who work for a separately elected official, although Inslee strongly encourages those branches to take similar action.

Some elected officials, including Attorney General Bob Ferguson, Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler and State Auditor Pat McCarthy, have announced similar requirements for their departments. State Democratic legislative leaders also applauded Inslee’s decision and said they may consider further COVID-19 safety measures prior to the next legislative session.

The mandate also does not apply to the 46,000 at-home caregivers or individual providers, who can be family members or contracted workers providing care in homes for people who need long-term care assistance, or other help due to a physical or cognitive disability.

According to the mandate, “health care settings” do not include: sports venues, foster homes, research facilities where health care services are not provided, veterinary offices, and animal control agencies.

What are the exemptions?

Employees may apply for a religious or medical accommodation to not receive the vaccine. Those looking for a medical accommodation must show proper documentation from a health care professional. Those looking for a religious accommodation must show documentation that includes a statement on how the vaccine requirement conflicts with the religious observance, practice or belief, according to the proclamation.

What if an employee refuses?

State employees who refuse to get vaccinated will be subject to dismissal for “failing to meet the qualifications of the job,” according to the governor’s office.

Health care employees who refuse could also lose their job or their license, Inslee said Monday.

Each hospital or facility that employs workers who are represented by a union will likely enter into negotiations with those unions to understand how the requirement will affect members, including those who choose to not be vaccinated.

These discussions will determine what the vaccination verification process will look like at each private facility.

Can employees get time off to get their dose or if they are sick afterward?

State employees whose organizations don’t provide vaccination on-site are permitted “reasonable paid leave to travel and receive each dose of the vaccine,” the governor’s spokesperson Tara Lee wrote in an email.

For state employees who are sick with side effects after the vaccine, Lee said they may use accrued leave or can request shared leave, which allows employees to share leave with one another for COVID-related reasons.

For private employees, much of the details for how employees can be compensated or accommodated for their shots will be left up to employers and likely discussed with unions at the bargaining table.

Where can we find vaccination rates for employers?

The state will not release vaccination data by facility because the state is not collecting that level of data, according to the governor’s office.

“We will be checking in with large systems, boards and commissions regulating health care entities, and state agencies to better understand how the vaccine mandate is being implemented and make additional decisions if necessary,” spokesman Mike Faulk wrote in an email.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is primarily funded by the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, with additional support from Report for America and members of the Spokane community. These stories can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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