Fully-vaccinated members of the public can now unmask in some county buildings, and county employees are getting the option too — if they can prove their vaccination status.
Lewis County broke from some Southwest Washington lawmakers this week in passing the opt-in policy that allows staffers to ditch their face covering after proving they’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19.
The policy follows new state Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) guidance, and mirrors recent public health guidance that fully-vaccinated people can safely unmask in most situations. The new workplace policy is optional, but has been decried by many Republican state leaders, some of whom said it turns employers into “vaccine police,” or amounts to vaccine segregation.
This week, County Commissioner Lindsey Pollock agreed that the policy is “a failure of leadership from our governor” that will ultimately “divide and separate us.”
“But here we are. And at this point, rather than holding our employees political hostages, I look to adopt this mask policy, under duress,” the first-term commissioner said.
Pollock noted that she is “vehemently opposed to providing medical information to the government,” and is still debating whether she will provide proof of vaccination in order to work unmasked.
The county’s policy applies to the commissioners’ offices and departments that fall under them. Proof of vaccination will be required from employees, although the county will not retain a copy of that medical document. Individual departments may also create a vaccine verification log.
Fully-vaccinated members of the public who remove their masks will not be asked for vaccination proof. The county’s detention centers still require masks, per state guidance.
The county’s decision to adopt the policy comes after discussion and disagreement last week, when Commissioner Sean Swope took a hard stance against it.
This week, he argued that the county should allow individuals to sign an attestation of vaccination as proof of their status — something L&I would allow. Swope suggested that unvaccinated individuals who have COVID-19 antibodies from a prior infection could “consider themselves vaccinated” and unmask.
But if L&I discovers a maskless employee lied about their vaccination status, managers would be put in a “horrific, horrific place,” Pollock said Monday.
The county’s policy does not include an option to prove vaccination status through a signed attestation.
According to Commissioner Gary Stamper, county employees aren’t in agreement over the policy as a whole either. Last week, Public Works Director Josh Metcalf said some of his employees were looking forward to finally unmasking.
“I’ve talked to a number of employees that are for it, and I’ve talked to a number of employees who are against it, and I’ve talked to a number of employees who, they don’t have an opinion one way or another,” Stamper said. “So I think we’d all agree that this is not the best arrangement … but at the same time, this is the only thing we have in front of us.”
Swope doubled down on his opposition, at one point citing the county’s relatively low vaccination rate.
“So now what we’re doing, is we’re setting up a policy that our representatives have spoken out against, our senator has spoken out against, several other counties have spoken out against it. And it creates a divisive culture that I think Inslee intended to produce with these L&I guidelines,” Swope said, adding later: “I stand by that statement: vaccine segregation.”