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Washington's vaccine mandate will be enforced in two weeks. Here's how that will work.

Courtesy of the Federal Food and Drug Administration

Washington State employees and contractors will soon be at a crossroad: get the coronavirus vaccine or lose their jobs.

That mandate was issued by Governor Jay Inslee during a surge in hospitalizations fueled by the Delta variant, and a slowdown in vaccinations.

Monday, Oct. 4 was the last day to get the vaccine in time to meet the governor’s Oct. 18 deadline, if a worker gets the Johnson and Johnson’s single-dose shot.The mandate has generated protests, a lawsuit and questions from state workers.

Spokane Public Radio answers a few of those questions.

Who does this order apply to?

According to the governor’s office, the vaccine requirement applies to all state workers, even if they work from home.

The mandate applies to almost all contractors. There are limited exceptions, such as maintenance workers at a healthcare facility if they work outside. 

All public school employees and higher education employees and most childcare workers must get vaccinated. Almost all people in healthcare facilities, alomg with people who have a healthcare license, or work under someone who does, need to be vaccinated.

That means firefighters who are also paramedics or EMT’s, nurses, and doctors need to be vaccinated.

Employers are not allowed to take employees at their word that they have been vaccinated. Workers will need to provide documentation that they've had the shot.

How do exemptions work?

Gov. Jay Inslee has kept exceptions narrow, and unlike other states, he chose not to allow COVID testing in place of a vaccination.

Both state workers and private sector workers can apply for exemptions if they have a sincerely held religious belief, or need a medical exemption.

For a religious exemption, an employee may be asked how long they’ve held their religious beliefs, how they conflict with vaccination, and if they’ve ever been vaccinated in the past.

A sample question from the state’s exemption template reads: “If your religious tenets do not include objections to all vaccines, please explain why the COVID-19 vaccine is objectionable based upon your religious beliefs.”

For a medical exemption, an employee must provide documentation of their condition from their medical provider.

If an employee’s exemption is approved, they still might face some restrictions at work, or could still be at risk of losing their job if the only work available requires them to work directly with the public. Accommodations are industry specific.

How does termination under the vaccinate mandate work?

According to a representative from the governor’s office, employees who aren’t vaccinated by Oct. 18 are likely not eligible for unemployment.

Unless an employee was approved for an exemption because of a disability or a sincerely held religious belief, failure to prove vaccination means they are no longer qualified to work for the state of Washington.

Those represented by labor unions, such as the Washington Federation of State Employees, may have slightly more flexibility. That union, which represents about 47,000 state employees, ratified an agreement that allows workers set to retire before the end of the year to submit their paperwork before the deadline. After October 18 they can use leave or unpaid days until their retirement, according to the labor agreement.

Rebecca White is a 2018 graduate of Edward R Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. She's been a reporter at Spokane Public Radio since February 2021. She got her start interning at her hometown paper The Dayton Chronicle and previously covered county government at The Spokesman-Review.
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