Inslee announces statewide mask mandate and vaccination requirements for educators

By Ritika Khanal, Co-Editor-In-Chief

Gov. Jay Inslee announced on Wednesday that all Washington state residents five and up, regardless of vaccination status, are required to wear masks indoors starting Aug. 23. Following this statement, Inslee also announced that all K-12 educators, childcare providers and most higher education employees must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18. Lack of compliance could end in job termination.

This announcement comes after an increased number of hospitalizations due to COVID-19, and the emergence of another variant of COVID-19 known as the Delta variant.

“COVID cases are skyrocketing, in large part due to the Delta variant. The best way to protect everyone is to get vaccinated and wear a mask. Today I announced a vaccine requirement [to those] working in K-12, most childcare and early learning, and higher education,” Inslee tweeted following the announcement.

This message also arrives after an open letter from the superintendent of public instruction, Chris Reykdal, written on Aug. 12, requesting that Inslee issue an executive order requiring the COVID-19 vaccine be a condition of employment for all K-12 employees.

“With the continued increase in cases of COVID-19 across our state due to the highly contagious Delta variant, students losing precious time learning in-person with their educators and peers because of quarantine or, potentially, school building closures is a real threat. Especially after a year and a half of remote and hybrid learning, a continuity of in-person instruction will be more important this year than ever,” Reykdal wrote.

In this letter, Reykdal also asked that the order include the fact that failure to get the appropriate vaccinations by the date specified, without acceptable reasons such as a medical or religious necessity, could result in an employee’s dismissal. Reykdal also emphasized a need for haste, citing his partners and stakeholders in K-12 education’s concerns that districts would not have enough time to prepare their staff if the order came later rather than sooner.

“The COVID-19 vaccine is not required for students. The proclamation also does not replace the requirement for all staff and students to wear masks or face coverings in schools and on school buses,” Edmonds School District (ESD) superintendent Gustavo Balderas wrote in an eMail to families and staff members.

While he clarified that the vaccine mandate does not extend to students, Balderas reminded families that vaccines are now available for students 12 and older, and encouraged them to go to the Snohomish Health District website to find out how to make appointments.

Balderas also made it clear that employees can not undergo regular tests for COVID-19 in place of receiving a vaccination; proof of vaccination must be provided by all employees, and an attestation will not suffice as a substitution for the vaccine.

“Edmonds School District and our Board of Directors do not have local control over this matter. We are legally required to follow the Governor’s directive. Employees may obtain a medical or religious exemption,” Balderas said.