Washington state to mirror contentious federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate, Inslee says

Ted S. Warren
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Washington state will retain rules in President Joe Biden’s embattled COVID-19 vaccine mandate for large employers, Gov. Jay Inslee said during a Thursday press conference.

The mandate calls for businesses with more than 100 workers to require employees to be vaccinated by Jan. 4 or test weekly for COVID-19.

President Joe Biden detailed the policy on Nov. 4 but it has since been paused by challenges in federal courts from Republican officials in 27 states, employers and several organizations. Inslee said his office is monitoring the situation.

“I believe the standard is the right direction for the nation, but obviously we have to wait for judicial decisions,” Inslee said. “I know this has caused a little consternation for folks to know exactly what the near future is, but I hope that we will have judicial review and decisions in the near future.”

Though the fate of the rule remains uncertain, Inslee said the state intends to follow criteria published by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, except in cases where it may conflict with state law.

That effectively means Washington state employers with greater than 100 employees may need to require vaccinations and allow for weekly testing.

“People stepped up to the plate, got vaccinated and we’ve got a lot of people who aren’t going to get sick now as a result,” Inslee said. “So I think that the vaccine mandate through employers can be very, very effective.”

OSHA’s rule requires employers to provide paid-time off for employees to get vaccinated, but employers are not required to pay for weekly testing. Unvaccinated workers must also wear a mask while on the job under the rule.

A separate order issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services requires 17 million health care workers at 76,000 healthcare facilities across the nation to be vaccinated by Jan. 4 as well. However, this rule does not allow for weekly testing in lieu of vaccination, according to the White House.

OSHA suspended the implementation of its vaccine mandate after the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals granted a motion to halt the standard on Nov. 12 until further court order.

On Tuesday, challenges to the rule were consolidated in the Cincinnati-based U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is dominated by Republican appointed judges.

Those opposed to the rule have argued OSHA does not have authority to impose the mandate. Meanwhile other challengers, including some unions, have argued the rules do not go far enough, the Associated Press reported.