Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday ordered all school employees in the state to be vaccinated, the strictest vaccine requirement in the country, The Seattle Times reports.
Inslee ordered all teachers and staff at all public, private, and charter schools to receive the vaccine in order to remain employed as the state’s hospitals struggle to deal with a surge in Covid cases and a shortage of health care workers.
“More than 95% of the COVID hospitalizations we see today are among the unvaccinated,” Inslee said. “And it is heart-rending for us to see losing our neighbors, our co-workers, our students to a preventable disease.”
Inslee previously ordered most state employees, including hundreds of thousands of health care workers, to be vaccinated by October 18 or lose their jobs.
Wednesday’s order expanded the requirement to all school staff, including coaches, bus drivers, and volunteers.
Inslee also brought back Washington’s statewide indoor mask mandate on Wednesday after warning that the state is seeing more hospitalizations than it did at its previous peak.
The mask mandate will go into effect on August 23 and apply to both vaccinated and unvaccinated residents.
The state’s health department has also strongly recommended that workers and attendees at crowded outdoor settings like farmers markets, fairs, and concerts also wear masks.
The statewide requirement comes after several counties already announced their own mask mandates.
The order drew criticism from Republicans, who have complained for months about Inslee’s use of emergency powers during the pandemic.
“No other governor has gone so far to take deeply personal health-care choices away from people and force them to inject something into their bodies, “said GOP Senate Minority Leader John Braun.
“It is wrong for the governor to force caring, experienced, and dedicated educators to get a vaccination, or have their jobs, livelihoods, and dreams ripped away from them,” said state Rep. Alex Ybarra. “It was my choice to get vaccinated. That’s the way it should be — a personal health-care choice.”