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Vaccines required for some to be employed

Masks required for all indoors statewide

Workers in some fields are required to be vaccinated or face losing their jobs, and indoor masks are required again in Washington state as the delta variant of the coronavirus sickens more people than earlier strains did last winter.

On Aug. 18, a week after announcing that state and healthcare workers must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 or lose their jobs, Gov. Jay Inslee announced, along with Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal, the same vaccination requirement for employees working in K-12 schools, in most childcare and early learning settings, and in higher education.

Only “legitimate medical reasons and sincerely held religious beliefs” qualify for exemptions.

“Individuals who refuse to get vaccinated will be subject to dismissal,” the governor said.

The mandate has potential to disrupt local healthcare and education services.

In the wake of Inslee’s announcement, Coulee Medical Center Monday held an all-staff meeting asking that everyone make a decision “sooner than later” at the facility, where about 30% of employees are not vaccinated, said hospital CEO Ramona Hicks. She described the mood as “quiet” and “somber.”

Hicks said she’s asked department managers to talk with their employees to find out their intentions, then report to her by Aug. 30 “so we can start … putting ads out, making the decisions that we have to make. … Anybody who leaves will definitely impact us.”

She had heard from only one employee so far who intends to resign.

Hicks said small hospitals across the country, including CMC, are finding it difficult or impossible to transfer patients to larger hospitals when they need an intensive care unit care as ICU beds are either full or unmanned because of a staff shortage.

“We are in the exact same position,” she said. “We and everybody else in Washington state struggle to find a bed. The beds are full or the beds can’t be manned, one of the two.”

That means other, non-covid, critical patients may have to wait for care for serious conditions that normally command immediate attention, such as a stroke.

Hicks said Friday that COVID-19 numbers were doubling every two weeks.

The governor’s vaccine mandate “does not impact students, regardless of age,” the governor’s website reads. “The requirement includes public, private and charter schools, and comes as schools across the state prepare to return for the 2021–2022 school year amid rapidly increasing case and hospitalization numbers.”

“It has been a long pandemic, and our students and teachers have borne their own unique burdens throughout,” Inslee said. “This virus is increasingly impacting young people, and those under the age of 12 still can’t get the vaccine for themselves. We won’t gamble with the health of our children, our educators and school staff, nor the health of the communities they serve.

“Our ability to maintain continued in-person learning without major COVID-related disruptions will depend on low virus transmission within our schools,” Reykdal said. “I appreciate the governor’s leadership in taking this important step in the fight against the spread of this virus.”

Inslee also announced a statewide indoor mask mandate for all individuals, regardless of vaccination status, which took effect on Monday. The mask mandate will apply to most public places across the state, including restaurants, grocery stores, malls and public-facing offices, regardless of vaccination status.

“The expansion comes after Washington recently broke the previous record for COVID hospitalizations set in December,” the governor’s website reads. “Every county in the state currently falls within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) substantial or high transmission, and each of the state’s 35 local health officers recently recommended all individuals wear masks indoors.”

“In Washington we continue to see an increase of cases, hospitalizations,” said Umair A. Shah, MD, MPH, Secretary of Health. “Vaccines are safe and effective, but they take time to work.”

Coulee Medical Center will host a drive-up vaccination event Sept. 1 in the parking lot, beginning at 8 a.m. The hospital recently received a shipment of 140 Moderna vaccines.

“As our vaccination efforts continue,” Shah said, “we are asking the public to take additional protections to help slow the spread of COVID in communities. Wearing a mask helps to protect yourself and each other.”

“We have seen over the last year how widespread masking also saves lives by reducing infection,” Inslee said. “I know this will frustrate some vaccinated folks who thought they wouldn’t have to do this anymore. There are not enough people vaccinated. The result is the explosive growth of a much more infectious strain, the Delta variant, and its increasingly concerning impacts on people of all ages.”

While not required, the Department of Health strongly recommends individuals also wear masks in crowded outdoor settings, such as outdoor concerts, fairs and farmers markets.


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