Six weeks ago I used this space to wonder: Who’s doing the vaccines right, Washington or Oregon?
Washington, I wrote, was the science stickler, following the medical ethics guidelines to a T and therefore giving shots first only to those most at risk of death from COVID-19, the elderly.
But our little-brother state, Oregon, “went more with its gut.” The governor down there, Kate Brown, went rogue and chose to leapfrog K-12 teachers ahead of 65-and-over seniors in the queue. And man did she get blasted for it.
“You are effectively giving many of us our death sentence,” read a typical comment to the state, this one from an 81-year-old doctor in Clackamas.
The governor up here was no fan either.
“I just do not believe that 25-year-old teachers think they should get in line ahead of their 80-year-old grandparents,” Gov. Jay Inslee said at the time.
Is it too soon to call this a knockout win — for Oregon? Maybe. You never know what’s next with this virus. But it sure looks like Oregon is sitting in a sweet spot at the moment while the state of Washington is left scrambling to catch up.
What happened is, Oregon ignored all the barbs and went ahead and got the shots for its teachers. When that didn’t lead to immediate school re-openings as hoped, the governor last week brought down the hammer.
“Whether or not public schools should return kids to the classroom this spring is no longer up for discussion,” she said.
How’s that for some clarity?
Brown ordered all schools to reopen in the coming weeks, K-5 grades by March 29, and 6-12 by April 19, after spring break. They must reopen in “hybrid” fashion at least, giving parents the choice to send kids in-person or stay remote.
There’s no question the maverick decision to vaccinate the teachers back in January is what gave her the leverage to issue this order now. One bold move led directly to another.
Now our governor, on the other hand, has been doing his best sheepherder dog impression, gamboling around the state trying to cheerlead the schools into reopening. His staff says he lacks legal authority to order them open (which is weird, because he’s the one who ordered them closed). But without vaccines to teachers à la Oregon, he lacks Kate Brown’s political clout to try this anyway. Some districts here already are bailing on in-person learning for the rest of the school year.
It’s making Sunny Jay a little cloudier.
“If I had a nickel for every excuse I have heard for not giving our children on-site instruction, I would be a millionaire at this point. These excuses are getting just a little bit tiresome, frankly,” Inslee fumed last week.
Recent actual headline, in the Everett paper: “Inslee urges teachers to suck it up.” Yeah that’s going to work.
It had to smart a bit when President Biden then sided with Oregon, directing every state to move teachers up the line. Inslee went along, but it means that Washington is weeks behind in getting its teachers the shots.
Meanwhile Oregon went from mocked to national policy model in the span of six weeks.
Because of Oregon’s focus on teachers, it does rank among the lowest in the country in getting its seniors the potentially lifesaving shots this winter. If there were a big outbreak in the state right now that was killing off a lot of unvaccinated seniors, Gov. Brown would look horrible.
But there isn’t — cases have plummeted in Oregon recently, as they have most places. Her argument from the start was that it would take so long to vaccinate all the seniors that by then the school year would be lost, so why not pause the seniors for a couple of weeks? She got accused of selling out the state’s old people, and maybe she got a little lucky, but she turned out to be right.
There’s still time, barely, for us to swallow our pride and copy little-brother Oregon.
Washington has recently been giving 60,000 shots per day. If we held “teacher vaccination days” right now, we could have every teacher and other school employees in the state jabbed within three days. How much risk is such a short pause to seniors, especially with the virus now on the down slide?
Use the one-shot J&J vaccine for this purpose and we could save an additional month or more of the fast-fading school year.
C’mon Inslee and Washington state. These are admittedly tough calls, so there’s no shame in being wrong and dramatically changing course. But if there is, then do it for this reason: There’s nothing worse than when your little brother is making you look bad.