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While COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations drop, Washington’s mandates remain in place

Washington State Health Secretary Dr. Umair Shah said the mandates are still helping the state combat the current COVID-19 surge.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Gov. Jay Inslee's office said Thursday that the state's Oct. 18 deadline for the COVID-19 vaccine is still in place, despite some continued hesitancy among state employees. 

Meanwhile, state health officials said Wednesday COVID-19 cases are dropping across Washington state, and across all age groups, but masking and social distancing aren't going anywhere. 

Washington State Health Secretary Dr. Umair Shah said despite the state’s “tremendous amount of progress” people shouldn’t expect restrictions to be lifted in the near future.

“It’s absolutely too soon for that,” said Shah. “Right now would be not the time to relax those restrictions because this is exactly what we’re using to help us fight this current surge.”

The state's vaccine mandate, which applies to many state employees, school staff and health care workers, has also apparently worked in getting more Washingtonians to get vaccinated.

Currently, 77.6% of those 12 and older have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 71.4% of the state’s 12-and-over population is fully vaccinated, according to the latest Department of Health data.

Additionally, more than 90% of state employees are fully vaccinated with more expected to turn in vaccine verification before next week's deadline. 

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While vaccination figures are expected to increase, Deputy Health Secretary for COVID-19 Response Lacey Fehrenbach said the state cannot let its guard down.

“We’re encouraged that we’re going in the right direction, but we have a long way to go to get through this delta wave and prepare for the winter respiratory virus season,” Fehrenbach said.

Olympia restaurant and liquor store owner Andy Thielan wants to know what needs to happen to get the state to eliminate the mask mandate for businesses.

“Where’s the end game here?” Thielan asked. “If the end is near and [masks] are helping us get there, then I guess I'm all for it as long as there's an endpoint that we can all see. Right now, it just seems indefinite.”

Thielan said he got a COVID-19 vaccine to help the state reach Gov. Jay Inslee’s goal of 70%, which he thought was supposed to be the threshold for the state to relax regulations.

“What does the governor need to see, a 100% vaccination rate?” He asked.

Inslee and health officials have said the delta variant, which drove record high case and hospitalization rates, caused the state to change the rules this summer.

Those employees covered by the state mandate must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18, show that they intend to become fully vaccinated, receive a medical or religious exemption and accommodation or face losing their job.