Inslee: Beefing Up Federal COVID-19 Work Mandates Not Currently Under Consideration

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Washington Gov. Jay Inslee currently has no plans to impose rules on large employers in the state that are stricter than federal requirements, the governor announced Thursday.

During a Nov. 18 press conference, Inslee said the state plans to abide by oncoming federal rules that require companies with more than 100 employees to have all their workers vaccinated or be subject to regular testing. On Nov. 4, President Joe Biden’s administration announced the requirement, which will be administered through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

“I know that this has caused a little consternation with folks to know what the near future is (with the mandate),” Inslee said.

He said the federal requirement is undergoing judicial review and enforcement of the mandate hinges on a decision.

“I do believe these new (federal) standards are coming and I hope people think about how to implement them ultimately,” Inslee said.

On Nov. 12, a federal appeals court published a ruling barring the enforcement of the Biden administration’s rules “until further court order.” Following the ruling, OSHA published a statement announcing it had suspended implementation of the rule “pending future developments in the litigation.”

At the press conference, questions surfaced on when mask and vaccine mandates would be lifted. Inslee said that would take place in a similar fashion to how the state determined to lift other restrictions.

“They’re the same metrics that we used when we opened up our economy. They’re the same metrics we used when we opened our restaurants. They’re the same metrics we used when we opened our schools successfully, which we’re really happy about,” Inslee said. “Really the fundamental question is when can we have a situation where we’re confident that this pandemic will not spring back on us and overload our medical care delivery system, which is still extremely stressed.”

Washington State Secretary of Health Umair Shah said Washington’s COVID-19 death rate is nearly half of the nation’s, though hospital occupancy statewide is more than 90%.

“We want to see sustained low hospital admissions and deaths before we end any of these restrictions,” Shah said.

Shah said he isn’t comfortable making any sort of recommendations on a procedure for removal of any of the COVID-19 responses currently in place.

“It is too soon and we’ve got too much at stake right now,” Shah said.

Though boosters are available, Shah said there aren’t currently plans to change the definition of “fully vaccinated” to those who received an additional shot. He said there’s been a “slight increase but not a significant increase” in breakthrough cases in people who are already vaccinated.

“I think the key message is that if you do have waning immunity then the booster really prevents you from having a breakthrough infection,” Shah said.

Overall, he encouraged those eligible to get an additional dose.

Though he didn’t announce any more vaccine mandates, the governor stressed people who are getting vaccinated are working toward the state’s goal.

“It’s unlikely to eliminate the virus from the globe,” Inslee said. “But there is a substantial probability, in my view, that we can get to a place that the vaccination rate is high enough that it reduces the transmission rate low enough where this will no longer threaten our health care delivery system from being overwhelmed.”

While other states have relaxed or removed pandemic-era restrictions, Inslee said the state’s response has come with a reward for Washingtonians.

“We get a reward when we don’t get sick tomorrow and die, or have your loved one die,” Inslee said.

He added vaccinations have also slowed transmission and have worked to “hasten the day” the state lifts remaining restrictions.

“One thing I do know, every time someone gets vaccinated, that day gets closer,” Inslee said.

As Thanksgiving and the start of the holiday season approaches, Shah urged Washingtonians to be cautious about travel and gatherings.

“We want to remind everybody that we continue to be in a pandemic,” Shah said. “The safety of those, of yourself and those around you is paramount.”

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