As COVID-19 hospitalizations mount ever higher — especially among the unvaccinated — it seems only right for Gov. Jay Inslee to order that some 60,000 state workers get vaccinated to keep their job, if they haven’t already done so.
Yet as far as we know, the state’s highest paid public employee — Washington State University football coach Nick Rolovich — has dug in and exempted himself for unspecified “private” reasons.
That stance has made WSU President Kirk Schulz’s campus vaccine mandate for students, faculty and college staff appear sadly toothless. Nearly a month has passed since Rolovich’s July 21 declaration he would be declining both vaccination and explanation of his decision. Since then, he has muttered in a teleconference that “I’m not against vaccinations” and shown up to the start of fall Cougars practices in a mask. This isn’t enough.
The WSU Board of Regents should intercede if Rolovich continues to thumb his nose at the vaccine mandate Schulz implemented in April. The university is being thrust into an awkward position of paying more than $3 million — Rolovich’s annual salary, which comes from athletic department revenues — for a “leader” who is behaving irresponsibly.
Tamping down this pandemic requires getting as close to universal acceptance of vaccinations as possible. With more than 600,000 U.S. deaths from COVID, one might wonder why Rolovich or any anti-vaxxer would dismiss the overwhelming evidence the vaccines save lives and can protect families, communities and in this case, other WSU coaches, players and staff. By ignoring science, Rolovich has embarrassed the university and put his team at risk.
The vaccination requirements Inslee, King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced Monday for their employees and about 400,000 state-licensed health care providers are overdue. With COVID-19’s delta variant sending infections surging just weeks before a million-plus public school students return to classrooms, now is the time to take strong action for public health. Those mandates, which do not cover educational systems, offer no personal or philosophical exemptions, making them tighter than what Schulz imposed on the WSU community, and with good reason.
The rise of the more-infectious delta variant has threatened the ability of vaccines to curtail the pandemic, particularly when the vaccines have not yet been deemed safe for children younger than age 12. Now is the time to ramp up vaccinations to boost broader immunity as fall school and gatherings bring people together, including for football games and holidays. Inslee recognized the urgency. With hundreds of millions of Americans now dosed, the unvaccinated have ample evidence that the vaccines are safe.
“We understand some of this hesitancy,” Inslee said Monday, “but the point is if you won’t do your share and get vaccinated now, you won’t be working for the state of Washington.”
That ought to apply to everyone drawing a state paycheck, not just to tens of thousands of state workers taking home a fraction of what the highest-paid state employee takes home.