Secretary of State Kim Wyman is leaving for a plum federal job and will well serve the nation as it grapples with election security. But as she leaves a state job she ably performed, her legacy is marred by a disappointing failure.
She is the only one of eight independently elected statewide officials who failed to follow Gov. Jay Inslee in requiring all workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Wyman’s irresponsible decision flouted public health advice and placed her employees and the public needlessly at risk.
Wyman told the Northwest News Networks’ Austin Jenkins she was unwilling to force a choice between vaccination and unemployment. This supposed mercy only works for people who still refuse the free, effective and demonstrably safe vaccines. For everyone else, it put the stress directly on people concerned about their health.
Wyman ordered most staffers to resume work in person in August, the month Inslee and other agencies declared vaccination a condition of employment. Wyman’s workers instead had to choose between being around people at a needlessly high risk of being contagious or having no job.
For all who have followed expert guidance, including that of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, living through COVID-19 has been a constant exercise in calculated risk. The pandemic turned venturing into restaurants, schools and offices — even reuniting with sorely-missed family members — into fraught decisions about masks, distancing and crowd size.
Wyman, who is leaving Nov. 19, should have been a champion for the strongest workplace safety protocols. The secretary oversees 300 employees in 27 offices across Washington, from Olympia to state archives branches on college campuses and state libraries in prisons. Those workers deserve the same peace of mind as the 60,000 workers under Inslee and more than 2,000 other state employees have had since August. So do members of the public who interact with these workers.
This rare lapse in judgment tarnishes Wyman’s otherwise stellar record of wisdom and nonpartisan integrity. The governor will soon name a temporary Secretary of State to serve until November 2022. Inslee should make commitment to immediately mandate vaccinations officewide a requirement to get the appointment.