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Inslee: 94% of state employees comply with vaccine mandate

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee talks from a podium at a news conference. Secretary of Health Umair Shah is in the background.
Rachel La Corte
The Associated Press file
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, front, addresses reporters on Oct. 14, 2021 as Secretary of Health Umair Shah looks on.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday applauded numbers showing that some 94% of state employees are vaccinated against COVID-19 or have received exemptions from his mandate, and 3.1% are waiting to get a vaccine or exemption.

Inslee said another 2.9% of state employees have left their jobs, either by quitting or retiring.

“They have understood this is not just about me, it's about we,” Inslee said of state employees who are vaccinated.

Inslee spoke in Olympia after the Washington state education department said nearly nine out of 10 public school employees are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in Washington state. The 89% vaccination rate announced by education officials is slightly lower than that of other state employees.

Inslee said the number of COVID-19 cases in the state has been declining for the past two months, but that decline has plateaued in the past two weeks.

“This is worrying,” he said.

Washington continues to average some 2,000 coronavirus cases a day, the Democrat said.

“We still have an extremely dangerous pandemic on our hands,” Inslee said, adding that residents must choose whether to fight the virus or accept it as an on-going fact of life. “We should fight it.”

Science is not clear on how many people must be vaccinated to beat the virus, Inslee said, and he could not predict what the end game of the pandemic will be.

“I do not have a crystal ball to predict the course of this virus,” he said, adding he hoped there would not be a sixth wave of COVID-19 this winter as people move indoors.

More than 1,800 Washington state workers have been fired, resigned or retired due to the state’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate, according to data released last week. Washington’s vaccine mandate is believed to be among the strictest in the nation.

Inslee was also asked if he would agree with requests from Republicans that Secretary of State Kim Wyman, a Republican who is leaving to join the Biden administration in election security, should be replaced by another member of the GOP.

“Republicans do not own the secretary of state's office,” Inslee said, adding that he is early in the process of choosing Wyman's replacement.

But he said the successful candidate will understand that the nation's election integrity faces threats from numerous sources and that experience in cybersecurity is a must.