OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday that he won’t pursue additional sweeping mandates to strengthen a federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate for workers at large employers.
President Joe Biden has ordered that companies with 100 or more workers require COVID shots starting in January. Instead of getting vaccinated, those workers could be tested weekly.
A federal appeals court temporarily blocked the Biden rule earlier this month amid legal challenges by some states, as well as businesses, advocacy organizations and religious groups.
It remains to be seen whether courts will allow the Biden vaccine rule — which is scheduled to kick in Jan. 4 — to go into effect.
Inslee had been considering additional state orders to make the Biden mandate stricter. One example would be removing the testing option, meaning workers would have to get vaccinated. Another consideration was to open the requirement to smaller businesses.
Groups like the Association of Washington Business have spoken out against those stricter measures, out of fear they might disrupt the labor force or put undue costs on businesses.
The governor’s announcement Thursday in a news conference signaled those possible additions to any federal mandate would not be pursued. The governor, who in August issued possibly the strictest vaccine mandate in the nation, requiring state employees and most health care workers to be vaccinated by Oct. 18, added that he hopes the courts allow the federal mandate to move forward.
“I believe the standard is the right direction for the nation, but obviously we have to wait for a judicial decision,” said Inslee.
Inslee’s remarks come as confirmed coronavirus cases and hospitalizations continued to gradually decrease in Washington.
State health officials, however, are nervous that gatherings for the coming holiday season could spark a new surge in the virus. That dynamic played out this time last year, although there were no authorized vaccines at the time.
During the news conference, state Health Secretary Umair Shah said occupancy rates at intensive-care units in Washington hospitals remain just below 90%.
The state is still coming down from its pandemic peak of a couple months ago, said Shah, and the decrease in cases is beginning to slow.
“I would still caution people from large gatherings … but the real concern I have is really around travel,” said Shah.
He advised people traveling to “be very cautious when it comes to in transit, wearing masks, make sure they get vaccinated in advance.“