OLYMPIA, Wash. — The only state agency in Washington to not implement a COVID-19 vaccine mandate is now joining the rest, according to Interim Secretary of State Steve Hobbs.
The recently appointed Democrat, who replaced Republican Kim Wyman, announced Monday he will require his employees to be vaccinated against the virus amid the ongoing surge of the omicron variant.
This means all employees, unless granted a religious or medical exemption, will need to be fully vaccinated by Feb. 25.
The mandate is a copy of Gov. Jay Inslee's, which was issued for all state employees except those under other elected officials. Those offices were allowed to choose whether or not they wanted to implement a vaccine mandate on their own.
“This was a decision I made after an assessment and commitment to the health and safety of our employees, especially as COVID-19 continues to occupy all aspects of our life,” Hobbs said Monday.
As of Monday, roughly 70%, or about 200, of the secretary’s 300 or so employees are vaccinated.
Hobbs said the number is likely higher since some employees may not have reported their vaccination status since it wasn’t required previously but also admitted he expected to lose some workers because of the mandate.
“I suspect that there will probably be a few employees that will not follow this. And if history bears out in this case, then probably just a low percentage of employees will choose to leave or not vaccinate,” Hobbs said.
The office’s Communications Director Charlie Boisner said any requests for exemption and accommodation due to the mandate will be handled on a case-by-case basis.
Hobbs said while there was no vaccine policy for the office when he took over on Nov. 22, Wyman had implemented strict masking policies and tracing who was in the building day-to-day.
Wyman resigned from her position in November to take a role with the Department of Homeland Security leading its elections security division.
She decided not to implement Inslee's vaccine mandate and instead gave her employees the choice to be vaccinated. It was a decision many rebuked, but Wyman stood by it even during her departure from the office, saying, “ I couldn’t live with forcing someone to choose between keeping their job and getting a vaccine and having something down the road happen that would harm them.”
Hobbs, who was appointed by Inslee, will hold the office until a statewide special election later this year in November.