State’s Essential Workers Added With Educators in Qualifying for Vaccine on March 22

by Andrew Engelson

In an online press conference on Thursday, March 4, Gov. Jay Inslee announced that in the coming weeks the State would make essential workers, such as agricultural workers, grocery store employees, and law enforcement officers, eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine on March 22. This comes a day after he announced, upon prompting from the Biden administration, to immediately make all educators, school staff, and child care workers eligible to be vaccinated.

In addition, based on projected increases in federal vaccine supply, including the addition of the newly approved one-dose vaccine from Johnson & Johnson, Inslee said the State would move on April 2 to allow those over the age of 50 with two or more comorbid conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, or heart disease, to be vaccinated. And he announced that by April 26, anyone with comorbid conditions over the age of 16 would be added to that list.

Inslee noted at the press conference that the decision to immediately add educators to the vaccination list was not his preferred choice, but that the Biden administration directive moved teachers up by two and half to three weeks. “In-person learning is the best environment for students,” Inslee said, pointing to that fact that some 1,400 schools across the state have already opened to some form of in-class learning. “Our educational community has shown us they can do this on-site, and it is reasonable to expect schools will provide on-site options for parents and students in the near future. Even without having our school staff vaccinated, we know that we can get this job done.”

“Even with the best teacher in the world, there is a magic of online learning that can’t be replaced,” Inslee said and referred to the fact that the CDC has recommended schools can open for instruction safely with rigorous precautions. Referring to the fact his father and brother were both teachers, Inslee insisted that he would “never send a teacher into an unsafe working condition,” insisting that protocols for schools would provide adequate safety and, later in the press conference, expressing visible frustration at pushback to returning to school: “If I had a nickel for every excuse I have heard for not giving our children on-site instruction, I would be millionaire at this point. These excuses are getting a little bit tiresome.”

But that frustration comes just as the Seattle Education Association (SEA) on Wednesday, March 3, rejected Seattle Public Schools’ plan to bring pre-K through first grade students back to in-class learning by March 8 and took a vote of no confidence in Superintendent Denise Juneau and other district leaders. Reporting by the Emerald has noted that BIPOC teachers and families in South King County are skeptical of the rush to return to classes, including a decision by a majority of parents at Campbell Hill Elementary School in the Renton School District, where most families are predominantly BIPOC, to elect to remain in online learning.

Inslee, however, is prepared to move forward, also noting in an answer to a reporter’s question that he was optimistic that middle school and high school students would also return to at least partial in-class instruction before the end of this school year, though it’s up to each school district to make that decision.

In other news on COVID-19, State Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah reported that more than 1.7 million people in the state have now received at least one dose of the vaccine. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, also briefly appearing at the press conference, noted that over 60% of people over the age of 65 in Seattle have received at least one dose, and that tests of a mass vaccination site at Lumen Field demonstrated the ability to vaccinate at least 4,000 people per week and could eventually reach as many as 20,000 per week as federal supply increases. The Biden administration has set an ambitious goal of vaccinating most adults in the U.S. by the end of May.

In addition, Mayor Durkan has announced additional vaccine pop-ups in Seattle with an effort to target underserved and BIPOC elderly populations, including:

  • Partnering with UW Medicine on Mobile Vaccination Teams, which will initially administer hundreds of doses to the highest-risk communities.

  • Partnering with Swedish on continuing mobile vaccination clinics.

  • Opening two permanent fixed COVID-19 Community Testing and Vaccination Clinics in Rainier Beach and West Seattle, which will together initially administer approximately 2,000 doses each week.

  • Opening a mass vaccination site, in partnership with Swedish and First & Goal Inc., at the Lumen Field Event Center, which will initially administer approximately 5,000 doses each week.

In addition, the mayor’s office said of the new pop-ups, “Beginning Monday, March 1, the Seattle Fire Department (SFD) will operate two new permanent Community Testing and Vaccination Clinics. The clinics are located at the current COVID-19 testing facilities in Rainier Beach and West Seattle. With initial doses, each site can administer approximately 1,000 first doses each week, operating multiple days per week. At full capacity, each SFD site could administer 1,000 first doses each day.”

The mayor’s office said both vaccination clinics will be focused on referral-only registrations through community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, and health care providers, and that due to limited supply, walk-ins will not be accommodated.

Meanwhile, on March 4, the White Center Community Development Association partnered with Kroger/QFC to set up a pop-up vaccination site that will serve about 900 qualifying people over two days, many of them elderly and from immigrant communities and communities of color.

Rickie Rouse, a Black man who received a vaccine at the QFC site, said he felt “100% confident” about getting the vaccine, though he admitted to still being a “little anxious.”

Cory Ryason, who works as a special education teacher in the Tukwila School District, learned of the pop-up, she says, after her boss alerted her that teachers now qualified for the vaccine. Ryason teared up while talking to reporter Joy Borkholder as she described how difficult it has been for families in Tukwila to get the vaccine and how hard the pandemic has hit communities in South King County. “I’m elated,” she said about receiving the vaccine.

Editor’s Note: The last paragraph of this story has been updated from “for Filipino families” to “for families” for clarity purposes.

Andrew Engelson is a Seattle-based writer and editor who lives in the South End.

Joy Borkholder provided reporting for this article.

Featured Image: Janell Duey, 33, who works in a health care setting, was “very excited” to be about to get her shot. She said that overall it has been a “nightmare” to get a vaccine appointment. She hadn’t signed up for a vaccine early on, because she doesn’t work in direct care with patients. But then when she did start trying in earnest, about a month ago, it was “very frustrating.” (Photo: Joy Borkholder)

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