New executive orders from Washington Gov. Jay Inslee will require masks to be worn indoors, as well as mandatory vaccinations for K-12 and higher education employees.
The mask mandate goes into effect Monday and applies to everyone ages 5 and up, regardless of vaccination status. It applies to all public indoor spaces, such as restaurants, grocery stores and most office settings.
Masks will not be required in office settings that are not easily accessible to the public or vaccinated people working alone in a closed office.
The vaccine requirement applies to all employees and volunteers in public, private and charter schools and state-run colleges and universities. That applies to teachers, staff, coaches and bus drivers, and employees in early-learning or child care facilities.
Most state employees and health care workers are also required to be vaccinated. The deadline is Oct. 18.
Students are not being required to get vaccinated, regardless of age.
“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. “We won’t gamble with the health of our children, our educators and school staff, nor the health of the communities they serve.”
People can apply for a medical or religious exemption from the vaccine mandate, but those without an exemption face formal dismal proceedings.
“This is a serious issue,” Inslee said. “This is not a suggestion or some whimsical idea we’re floating. This is a job requirement.”
One of the more high-profile cases could involve Nick Rolovich, the head football coach at Washington State University. He so far has not made public his reasons for not getting vaccinated, but he was the only Pac-12 head coach who did not appear at the conference’s media day last month after participants were required to be fully vaccinated.
“I have elected not to receive a COVID-19 vaccine for reasons that will remain private,” Rolovich said in a July statement. “While I have made my own decision, I respect that every individual — including our coaches, staff and student-athletes — can make his or her own decision.”
Reaction within the teachers union has been mixed.
A statement from the Washington Education Association, which represents about 95,000 teachers, said their members would be subject to the mandate.
Jeremy Shay, president of the Spokane Education Association, told local media there are other alternatives, such as weekly tests for those not wanting to get vaccinated.
“We’ve shown that you don’t need to be vaccinated to run schools safely,” he said. “We did it last year.”
Inslee’s announcement comes as Washington is at an all-time high for coronavirus hospitalizations.
Health officials say there are 1,240 COVID-19 patients hospitalized throughout the state. The previous high was 1,100 last December.