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Cowlitz County clinics, schools report high compliance on COVID-19 vaccine mandate deadline

Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine vial (copy)

A vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine sits on a table at the vaccination station at the Cowlitz County Fairgrounds in Longview in February. 

Monday was the last day for thousands of state employees, health-care workers and school staff to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or receive an exemption under Washington’s mandate.

In August, Gov. Jay Inslee announced the mandate for state and healthcare workers, with an Oct. 18 deadline.

Teachers and other school staff were added to the mandate the following week.

Area lawmakers who have been critical of the mandate since it was announced condemned the Monday deadline.

“Today marks a sad page in Washington state’s history for many working families,” said 20th District Rep. Peter Abbarno, R-Centralia, in a statement. “It is clearly evident the governor is more interested in punishing Washingtonians for their beliefs than finding respectful and reasonable solutions.”

The requirement covers a broad swath of workers in health-care settings, including hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and assisted living, rehabilitation centers, dentist offices, pharmacies, chiropractors and more. Emergency medical responders, including many firefighters, also fall under the proclamation. The mandate does not include personal care providers working in a patient’s home.

People eligible for a religious or medical exemption are entitled to a reasonable accommodation assessment, according to the governor’s office website.

To be fully vaccinated by Monday, the latest people could receive the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine was Oct. 4, with earlier deadlines for the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

As of Monday morning, all of Cowlitz Family Health Center was in compliance with the mandate, with 93% vaccinated and 7% with approved medical or religious exemptions, said Chief Executive Officer Jim Coffee. When fully staffed, the organization has 230 employees at its multiple locations.

Employees with exemptions will be tested weekly, Coffee said. The organization is working hard to stay within the guidelines of the mandate while allowing everyone to continue working, he said.

Coffee said at one point Family Health Center thought it would lose 40 to 45 people who were not recorded as being vaccinated. Many had been vaccinated for months, but hadn’t turned in their vaccine cards, he said.

About four or five staff members resigned over the last couple months because they didn’t want to be vaccinated, Coffee said.

“I’m hoping as we continue forward and more vaccines get final approval and are no longer under emergency use authorizations that people will have more trust in them,” he said.

PeaceHealth and Kaiser Permanente earlier in August announced their own vaccine requirements for employees.

As of last week, 97% of PeaceHealth St. John Medical Center caregivers, about 1,450 people, are in compliance with the COVID-19 vaccination requirement policy, according to the organization. Of those, 4% have approved exemptions. The other 3% were on unpaid leave, according to PeaceHealth.

Kaiser Permanente did not have specific numbers for its Longview clinic. For the Northwest region, including Oregon and Southwest Washington, about 89% of staff and 99% of physicians were fully vaccinated, according to Kaiser.

PeaceHealth, Kaiser report high COVID-19 vaccination rates among staff

About 1.5% of employees, roughly 170 out of 11,100, were put on leave because they didn’t submit either an exemption request or proof of vaccination by Sept. 30, said Debbie Karman, Kaiser spokesperson. Employees have until Dec. 1 to respond and return to work.

Last week, the Washington State Hospital Association reported about 88% of hospital workers were fully vaccinated. Some of the remaining 12% likely have been vaccinated or turned in vaccine verification since then, but updated numbers were not yet available, said association CEO Cassie Sauer during a press briefing Monday.

The association estimated 2% to 5% of staff, about 3,000 to 7,500 people, could leave the workforce because of the requirement. Sauer said Monday that estimate may be on the high end, as hospitals reported staff beginning the vaccination process over the weekend.

About 88% of Washington hospital staff fully vaccinated, survey says


In mid-August, Inslee extended the vaccination mandate to people working in kindergarten through 12th grade, most child cares and early learning and higher education. The mandate does not apply to students.

In Castle Rock, the district did not lose any staff, Superintendent Ryan Greene said. About 70% of staff are vaccinated and 30% were granted exemptions.

“People were nervous about what it meant, but our HR did a great job walking people through it and helping if they needed a religious or medical exemption form,” Greene said.

Kalama is at 88% vaccinated, with 12% of staff granted exemptions, district spokesman Nick Shanmac said, and the district also did not lose any staff members.

Toutle Superintendent Bob Garrett said three staff members resigned over the vaccine mandate earlier in the year, but the district is now at 100% compliance, with all staff either vaccinated or exempt.

In Woodland, six staff members did not meet the deadline and were facing non-disciplinary termination, Superintendent Michael Green said. Six more started the vaccination process too late to be fully vaccinated by the deadline and will be placed on leave until they are fully vaccinated. 78.6% of staff are vaccinated, while about 18% have exemptions.

“It’s hard,” Green said. “Those are some real high quality folks.”

He said the six staff members include a substitute bus driver, paraeducators and a custodian.

“We’re challenged already with having enough employees, particularly in those classified positions,” Green said.

In Kelso and Longview, district spokespeople said the district would not have specific numbers to share until later in the week.

Longview Superintendent Dan Zorn said last week he felt the district was “in a pretty good place.”

Local schools worried about vaccine mandate effect on staff

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