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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
News >  WA Government

More than 92% of state employees comply with vaccine mandate

Oct. 19, 2021 Updated Tue., Oct. 19, 2021 at 10:04 p.m.

Members of a Washington State Patrol honor guard walk on the House floor after bringing in the U.S. and Washington state flags on Jan. 13 at the start of the first day of the 2020 session of the Washington legislature at the Capitol in Olympia.  (Ted S. Warren/Associated Press)
Members of a Washington State Patrol honor guard walk on the House floor after bringing in the U.S. and Washington state flags on Jan. 13 at the start of the first day of the 2020 session of the Washington legislature at the Capitol in Olympia. (Ted S. Warren/Associated Press)

OLYMPIA – More than 92% of state employees have complied with the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

As of Monday, the state has lost nearly 1,900 employees – or about 3% of it workforce – who left their jobs or were terminated due to the mandate. Most were fired, state data shows, but 191 quit or retired.

The remaining 4.6% of employees are in pending action, meaning they are in the process of being vaccinated, awaiting an accommodation decision, or pending retirement or separation, according to the Office of Financial Management.

State employees had until the end of the day Monday to submit their COVID-19 vaccination record or lose their jobs. Those who had been awaiting an accommodation decision or had only received one dose of the vaccine by Monday could take up to a month of leave to receive the vaccine and still keep their position, assuming it has not yet been filled.

Monday’s deadline followed months of protests and lawsuits from state employees who called for Gov. Jay Inslee to rescind the mandate. Among the most outspoken against the mandate were state troopers and corrections officers.

State troopers and corrections officer led a lawsuit of about 600 other state employees against the mandate. A Thurston County judge denied the effort in a ruling Monday, saying it was in the governor’s authority to issue the mandate and that the plaintiffs failed to prove there was a likelihood of irreparable harm from refusing to take the vaccine.

As of Tuesday, the Washington State Patrol lost 127 of its 2,200 personnel due to the mandate.

Those employees include 53 civil servants and 74 commissioned officers, the patrol reported early Tuesday. The officers include 67 troopers, six sergeants and one captain.

Those numbers only include those who were separated from employment. Another 15 quit due to the mandate and another 17 retired due to the mandate, according to state data.

“We will miss every one of them,” State Patrol Chief John R. Batiste said in a statement. “I extend a hardy thanks to those who are leaving the agency. I truly wish that you were staying with us.”

Most of the patrol’s geographic districts lost nine or 10 troopers. The eastern most district, which includes Spokane, Whitman, Adams, Lincoln, Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille, lost 10 troopers.

The two Central Washington districts lost only five commissioned personnel while the district encompassing Klickitat, Clark, Cowlitz, Skamania and Lewis counties lost the most – 14.

The State Patrol is working on contingency plans, according to a news release from the patrol. The agency will move resources “where necessary and specific personnel losses demand adjustment,” according to the release.

The patrol will continue to work to fill three new academy classes in the coming months and will look to fill vacancies on the civilian side as soon as possible.

“We have the responsibilities of the agency to carry forward and I am not going to ask you to do more with less,” Batiste said of those who decided to stay. “We shall do our very best to keep our remaining staff from becoming overburdened by these temporary losses.”

As of Tuesday, the Department of Corrections lost about 350, or about 4.5%, of its employees, but the rate varies across facilities, spokesperson Rachel Ericson wrote in an email.

Airway Heights Corrections Center lost 21 people and has a 93% vaccination rate. Coyote Ridge Corrections Center lost 30 people and has a 91% rate. The facility with the lowest vaccination rate is the state penitentiary in Walla Walla, which has an 89% vaccination rate. The facility lost 52 people, according to state data.

Family members of inmates have expressed concerns with contingency plans and possible lockdowns when the mandate went into effect.

“All facilities have adequate staffing for operations,” Rachel Ericson said.

Other state agencies with some of the lowest vaccination rates include the Department of Children, Youth and Families centers, the Department of Social and Health Services facilities, Department of Veterans Affairs homes and Eastern State Hospital. All of their rates range are in the mid- to high 80s.

A look at local numbers

COVID case rates continue to decline in Spokane County.

The case rate declined from 671 cases per 100,000 people in the last two weeks to 615 cases per 100,000 people.

The Spokane Regional Health District reported 268 new COVID-19 cases.

There are 153 patients hospitalized with the virus in Spokane.

There were 11 deaths due to COVID-19 in Spokane County last week.

The Panhandle Health District reported 336 new COVID-19 cases, and the district has 2,882 backlogged cases.

The district also reported five additional deaths Tuesday.

There have been 562 deaths due to COVID-19 in Panhandle residents.

There are 146 Panhandle residents hospitalized for the virus.

Arielle Dreher contributed to this report.

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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