Seattle touts 99% compliance with employee vaccine mandate hours before deadline
As of Monday, 90% of sworn police personnel were vaccinated, city officials said
By Sarah Grace Taylor
The Seattle Times
SEATTLE — Just hours before the deadline, the city of Seattle reported Monday morning that 99% of its employees are in compliance with the mayor's vaccine mandate.
By 11:59 p.m. Monday, all Seattle city employees have to be vaccinated against COVID-19, per an August order by Mayor Jenny Durkan. As of Monday morning, 94% of the city's 11,000 employees had been vaccinated, and an additional 5% had filed paperwork to be exempted from the order. The remaining 150, or about 1%, had not yet complied.
At a news conference Monday, Durkan said she was "so proud" of the compliance numbers, and made a last-minute plea to those who hadn't filed paperwork.
Asked what would happen to those out of compliance at midnight, Durkan put the onus on employees to make the choice about maintaining their jobs.
"If people make the choice that they don't want to keep their jobs because they don't want to be vaccinated, they will have that choice," she said. "I hope they don't make it."
Durkan also said the city would work with those employees who make an effort to comply.
"At 12:01, if they're not vaccinated, it depends on whether there's an exemption process or whether they just haven't filed their paperwork," she said. "Everyone has to be vaccinated, but we will try to provide a last chance for every city employee who has not complied with this. Our goal here is not to lose employees. Our goal is to get everybody vaccinated."
In the Seattle Police Department, over 350 officers had not yet submitted proof of vaccination at the beginning of the month, causing concern about police staffing. But as of Monday morning, 91% of department employees and 90% of sworn personnel had been vaccinated. An additional 7% of department employees and 8% of sworn employees had filed for exemptions, according to information provided by Stephanie Formas, Durkan's chief of staff.
The remaining 2% of the department — or 24 employees — had not submitted, as of the late-morning update.
Citing interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz and Fire Chief Harold Scoggins, Durkan said she does not anticipate significant effects to the city's first response.
"We're down to just a couple dozen who haven't put in their paperwork, and if the trend lines are the same, many of them have already been vaccinated and just haven't put it in," Durkan said. "But Chief Diaz feels very secure — and I have Chief Scoggins here as well — that if someone calls 911, there will not be significant impacts on the response in either fire or police."
But Mike Solan, president of the Seattle Police Officer Guild, tweeted Monday afternoon that the union doubts the city's numbers are correct.
"Though we've heard and seen the city's media blitz on the current vaccine verification numbers, SPOG has asked the city for clarification on these numbers as we believe that the city is not being fully transparent," Solan wrote.
In the Seattle Fire Department, 93% of employees were vaccinated Monday morning and 6% had filed for exemptions. In addition, 16 employees, or about 1% of the department, had not complied.
According to Formas, the city had around 40 open requests for medical or religious exemptions as of Monday afternoon.
When an exemption is requested, it goes through a committee of city and department human resource representatives for verification, where it is reviewed by at least two members. If the exemption is denied, then it goes to an escalation team, or in the medical exemption case, a medical consultant and escalation committee, according to Formas.
If the exemption is still denied, it gets provisionally denied. The employee is able to submit additional supporting information within seven days and then repeat the review committees.
To date, about 540 employees have applied for an exemption; 444 have received religious exemption, and 25 have received medical exemption. Three religious and two medical requests have been denied provisionally, while 17 religious and 11 medical exemptions have been completely denied.
In a tweet on Monday, the police department's official account addressed a claim that uniformed officers were "honking and giving thumbs up" to support a vaccine protest outside of City Hall.
"The official position of SPD is vaccines save lives," the tweet read, urging those with information on "inappropriate behavior by officers" to contact the Seattle Office of Police Accountability.
"We've forwarded this, and another incident involving the use of the Gadsden flag on police vehicles, to OPA," the department tweeted.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for King County Executive Dow Constantine said the county would not have updated numbers on employee vaccinations until Tuesday, as employees have until midnight Monday to update their vaccination status. As of a week ago, 83% of county employees had reported being vaccinated.
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