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Teachers In Washington State Must Get Fully Vaccinated — Or They Could Be Fired

All K-12 teachers and staff in Washington state, including public, private and charter school employees, could be fired if they aren't fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 18.

Gov. Jay Inslee issued the order Wednesday, which also applies to higher education institutions and most child care facilities in the state. Washington now has stricter and more decisive requirements than many other places in the United States. Mask mandates have proven divisive in Florida, Arizona and Texas, where school boards, parents and state governments are clashing over who gets to decide requirements.

"This is a serious issue. This is not some suggestion or whimsical idea we're floating. It is a job requirement," Inslee said.

Washington's mandate is wide-ranging: It applies to anyone working in a school environment, including bus drivers, coaches and volunteers. If employees don't comply, they could be subject to dismissal. Exemptions for religious or medical reasons will be allowed, but "personal or philosophical exemptions" aren't acceptable, according to Inslee.

Inslee announced the order likely affects about 118,000 workers in early-learning and child care programs, and about 90,000 employees in higher education institutions.

The vaccine requirement doesn't apply to any students or to tribal schools, but Inslee also issued a new indoor mask requirement for all residents ages 5 and up, set to go into effect Monday.

Inslee also highlighted the mandate requires full vaccination by Oct. 18, meaning school employees must get the second dose of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, or the only dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, by Oct. 4 to be in compliance. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers people fully vaccinated two weeks after they've received their final required dose of the COVID-19 vaccines.

In Washington, the spread of the delta variant is driving up infection rates. As of Aug. 9, Washington averaged 2,665 cases per day, and Inslee reports more than 95% of COVID-related hospitalizations in the state are among unvaccinated people.

This story first appeared on the Morning Edition live blog.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Nell Clark is an editor at Morning Edition and a writer for NPR's Live Blog. She pitches stories, edits interviews and reports breaking news. She started in radio at campus station WVFS at Florida State University, then covered climate change and the aftermath of Hurricane Michael for WFSU in Tallahassee, Fla. She joined NPR in 2019 as an intern at Weekend All Things Considered. She is proud to be a member of NPR's Peer-to-Peer Trauma Support Team, a network of staff trained to support colleagues dealing with trauma at work. Before NPR, she worked as a counselor at a sailing summer camp and as a researcher in a deep-sea genetics lab.