Washington Still Has 29 Pandemic Emergency Orders in Effect With No Plans to End Them

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It’s been more than two years since Gov. Jay Inslee issued his first COVID-19 emergency proclamation in the state of Washington.

Since then, the governor has signed 87 COVID-related proclamations, rescinding 58 fully so far, while all or portions of 29 proclamations are still active statewide.

In February 2020 the governor first issued proclamation 20-05, which declared that COVID-19 is a statewide emergency. Without that emergency declaration in place, the governor would not have authority for other emergency powers under the law.

Of the proclamations, one of the most debated and controversial orders is still in effect. The proclamation requires workers in state, educational and healthcare settings to be vaccinated unless those individuals have a religious exemption or have a disability that prevents them from being vaccinated.

The order was signed by the governor last August after access to vaccinations became increasingly available. The proclamation required employees to be fully vaccinated by October or lose their jobs.

Other proclamations have not been as controversial but still remain in effect.

For example, proclamation 21-08.01 protects workers against adverse action from employers for getting the COVID vaccine, taking paid or unpaid time off to get the vaccine or recover from the vaccine’s side effects, taking paid or unpaid time off to quarantine after being advised by a medical professional, and protecting employees who choose to wear a face-covering at work. Other proclamations related to temporary practice permits for health care workers, suspending statutory requirements between Tribes and the state so that Tribes can use fuel tax refunds, and a proclamation related to workers and resources at long-term care facilities are still in effect.

Several other emergency orders such as tenancy protections, mask mandates and “stay home” orders have all lapsed and are no longer in effect.

Not all have not agreed with the emergency proclamations set by Inslee and are still against the remaining proclamations, such as Rep. Jim Walsh, a Republican from Aberdeen who has been vocal throughout the pandemic against COVID mandates. Walsh wore a yellow Star of David last summer in protest of vaccine mandates, a move he later apologized for.

Walsh told McClatchy that he is most concerned about the underlying emergency declaration as it is the basis for other proclamations by the governor. He said the state needs to reform current laws to put a time limit on the governor’s powers, and he introduced a bill during the recent session to put a 14-day limit on emergency orders. He also supported other legislation to cap the time period at 30 days.

Additionally, Walsh said he believes the proclamation that requires employees to be vaccinated is unconstitutional and should be rescinded immediately. He said he thinks Inslee should issue an executive order for state agencies to rehire employees who were fired as a result of the proclamation.

But the Governor’s Office and some other state officials agree that certain proclamations are necessary for the state, as the pandemic is still ongoing.

Mike Faulk, deputy communications director and press secretary for Inslee, told McClatchy that the Governor’s Office does not have any immediate plans to rescind any of the remaining orders. He said that most of the proclamations are still in effect because they’ve heard from stakeholders, policy analysts and other elected leaders that those proclamations are still needed “based on current conditions — whether it’s the status of the virus itself or labor and supply chain issues.”

“They’ll be lifted when they aren’t needed to help Washingtonians mitigate the ongoing disruptions of the pandemic,” Faulk said.

In 2021, Senate Democrats introduced a concurrent resolution to extend certain proclamations throughout the duration of the pandemic, or until those proclamations are rescinded by the governor.

In Oregon, executive order-based health and safety requirements were lifted last year, according to Charles Boyle, deputy communications director for Gov. Kate Brown. He told McClatchy that Oregon’s COVID-19 emergency order was lifted on April 1 of this year, but that “requirements in specialized settings, such as health care facilities, remain in place under the Oregon Health Authority’s normal rule-making authority.”

Other state governors have tried to retain their emergency orders, but haven’t been as successful.

In Kentucky, for example, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear initially vetoed legislation by the Republican-led legislature to end emergency orders, but later had his veto overridden by the majority.

There are still 14 other states with emergency orders in place including California, Texas and New York.

All of the active orders still in effect in Washington state can be found on the governor’s website.