Gov. Inslee won't lift WA's vaccine mandate for state employees yet

The governor told a Crosscut Festival audience that the restrictions have saved about 19,000 lives in Washington state.

Gov. Inslee at a press conference

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee greets people at a press conference in Seattle on  Dec. 10, 2018. (Dorothy Edwards/Crosscut)

Gov. Jay Inslee is not ready to declare “mission accomplished” on Washington’s COVID-19 response.

The vaccine mandate for state employees and other pandemic restrictions will continue for now, he said Saturday, May 7, during an appearance at the Crosscut Festival

Case numbers have been climbing again in some parts of the state, but hospitalization and fatality rates are not increasing at the same rates. Inslee maintained that Washington’s approach to the pandemic has clearly been very successful.

The full Crosscut Festival interview with Gov. Jay Inslee will be made available on the Crosscut Talks podcast. Subscribe now at Apple PodcastsSpotifyStitcher, or wherever you listen.

“If we had the same death rate as say Mississippi, we would have had another 19,000 people lose their lives in Washington,” Inslee told Bill Radke of Seattle public radio station KUOW. The governor noted that’s enough people to fill the Climate Pledge Arena at Seattle Center.

Inslee said the vaccine mandate was just one part of a successful strategy, which also included masking rules and preventing crowding. “Those three things we know unequivocally had a role in reducing deaths in our state,” he said. About 12,700 people have died from COVID-related illnesses in Washington state since the start of the pandemic in Washington.

When asked when the restrictions would be lifted, Inslee answered “when it makes sense.” With cases rising and new variants appearing, the restrictions will remain in place for now, he repeated.

During the 45-minute interview, the governor also touched on abortion rights, vowing to do what it takes to keep Washington a pro choice state.

Both Inslee and Radke acknowledged that not all Washington voters are pro choice and when asked how the governor would address this cultural divide, Inslee said he remained hopeful that people would stay committed to democratic principles, voting and following the will of the majority. 

Some Washingtonians continue to question whether the governor has overreached with his executive orders concerning the pandemic. But the governor maintained that his decisions are based on the best available science, and his approach has also been confirmed in court, even though some have called his emergency powers declaration unconstitutional.

Inslee pointed to the dozens of times his decisions were challenged in state and federal courts and how judges appointed by both Republicans and Democrats have confirmed their constitutionality and that he had the legitimate authority to make these decisions for the state during a global pandemic.

“This has not been some rogue executive running rampant like an elephant through the tall grass of our civil liberties,” Inslee said. “The Legislature now has had two or three opportunities to rescind or contravene any of the actual rules or protocols that I have announced and they have confirmed them.”

There are 16 other states that currently have emergency orders in place. When Inslee was asked when Washington’s mandates might be lifted, his response was as uncertain as the pandemic has been until now: “It's when it makes sense that we can eliminate any requirement and not experience more death.”

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