(Daily Mail) Teachers, bus drivers and other school workers in Washington and Oregon have two months to get fully vaccinated or lose their jobs, the governors of the Pacific Northwest states said.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said the vaccine mandate will apply to 155,000 educators, leaders and staff at private, public and charter schools statewide. They won’t be able use negative tests in lieu of the vaccine.
‘This will be a condition of employment,’ Inslee said at a press conference Wednesday.
On Thursday, Oregon Gov. Kate Porter followed suit by requiring all teachers, educators, support staff and volunteers in K-12 schools to get vaccinated.
Teachers are the latest to be added to Oregon’s growing statewide vaccine mandate — which also includes health care workers and state employees — that requires them to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 or six weeks after a COVID-19 vaccine receives full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, whichever is later.
In Washington, more than 70 percent of ‘certificated’ school staff – which includes teachers, principals, librarians, and others – are already vaccinated, said Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal.
The rest have until October 18 to get two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines or one dose of Johnson & Johnson.
Students are not required to get jabbed.
‘We won’t gamble with the health of our children, our educators and school staff, nor the health of the communities they serve,’ Inslee said.
Inslee warned those who quit their jobs because of the mandate will not be eligible for state help.
‘If you leave, the vast majority of people will not be eligible for unemployment compensation either,’ Inslee said.
The governor’s office said there are limited exceptions for which employees can request a waiver, including legitimate medical reasons and sincerely held religious beliefs.
Inslee also ordered that everyone in the state wear a mask at restaurants, grocery stores, malls and public-facing offices, regardless of whether they’ve been jabbed or not.
Washington was the site of the country’s first confirmed case of coronavirus on January 21, 2020, when the CDC said that a man who returned from visiting family in Wuhan, China, days earlier was infected with the virus. He eventually recovered.
Brown’s increased health and safety measures come as Oregon’s health system is clobbered by COVID cases.
On Wednesday there were just 41 intensive care unit beds available in the state. Oregon’s hospitalization records have been shattered day after day as the highly transmissible delta variant spreads across the state.
As of Wednesday, 850 coronavirus patients were hospitalized in Oregon — surpassing the state’s record, which was set the previous day. Before this month, the hospitalization record was 622 in November, during a winter surge and when vaccines were not yet available.
More than a third of the state’s 652 adult ICU beds are being used for COVID-19 patients. Health officials say that the overwhelming majority of hospitalized virus patients are unvaccinated.
For weeks Oregon health officials have warned that COVID-19 cases, fueled by the highly transmissible delta variant, would fill hospitals by September if infection rates didn’t slow significantly. Now, a little more than halfway through the month of August, 94% of the state’s hospital beds for adults and 93% of ICU beds are full.
On Friday 500 National Guard members will be deployed to serve as equipment runners in the most stricken hospitals and help with testing.
In an attempt keep hospital beds open, health systems across Oregon have opted to postpone elective procedures, nurses and physicians say they are overwhelmed and health officials are desperately urging people to get vaccinated and wear masks.
Republican state leaders in Wasahington immediately condemned Inslee’s decision.
GOP Senate Minority Leader John Braun said that, ‘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,’ according to The Seattle Times.
State Rep. Alex Ybarra said vaccinations should be ‘a personal health-care choice.’
‘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,’ he said.
Cases in Washington continue to rise as the more aggressive Delta variant spreads across the country.
On Tuesday, the state reported more than 3,500 new cases of COVID-19, up seven-fold from just 503 two months earlier, on June 17.
The governor’s office cited case numbers for the mandate, along with the fact that every county in the state falls within the CDC’s designation of ‘substantial or high transmission.’
Vaccination in Washington state far outpace the national average.
More than 71 percent of people aged 12 and up have at least one dose, according to the Washington State Department of Health.
Inslee seemed to suggest they are not the problem.
‘More than 95 percent of the COVID hospitalizations we see today are among the unvaccinated,’ he said.
‘And it is heart-rending for us to see losing our neighbors, our co-workers, our students to a preventable disease.’
Washington state’s hospitals are filling up, but the culprit isn’t COVID patients, it’s finding a place to discharge patients who no longer need care.
‘The COVID waves have come and gone, but our facilities have stayed full despite that,’ said Dr. David Carlson, chief physician officer of MultiCare, according to The Seattle Times.
COVID patients took up 11 percent of the state’s hospital beds in the week ending August 10, the highest level since January, when it was at 16 percent.
Reykdal, the school superintendent, hinged the state’s ability to educate children on protection from COVID.
‘Our ability to maintain continued in-person learning without major COVID-related disruptions will depend on low virus transmission within our schools,’ Reykdal said.
Last week, California announced a mandate that covers both public and private schools, but allows testing instead of vaccination. Earlier this month, Hawaii required all Department of Education staffers to disclose their vaccination status or face weekly testing.