Washington State Turns Away Unvaccinated County Workers Offering To Help Clear Snow

A snowfall closed state roads, disrupting travel and the supply chain.
A line of cars follows a tractor plowing snow near Mammoth Lakes, California, January 9, 2017 as a series of strong storms moves through the western US state. / AFP / DAVID MCNEW (Photo credit should read DAVID MCNEW/AFP via Getty Images)
DAVID MCNEW/AFP via Getty Images

The state of Washington this month turned away local county officials who offered to help clear away snow because they might not be unvaccinated.

After a “significant snowfall” in Kittitas County earlier this month around Jan. 5 and 6, county officials reached out to the Washington state transportation department on Tuesday offering to help clear the snow from state roadways.

The snowfall had caused the closure of two major highways, Interstate 90 and HWY 97 for three days, disrupting travel and the supply chain into Kittitas County. Freight deliveries were delayed, and access to services was “significantly impacted,” Kittitas County officials said

However, their help was rejected because Kittitas County does not have a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for county employees, so there was a chance that some of the workers who came to help the state clear the snow could be unvaccinated.

“Washington State informed Kittitas County they could not accept this assistance due to Kittitas County not mandating the COVID-19 vaccination for County employees. The Kittitas County Board of Commissioners is extremely disappointed with the States’ position to refuse assistance,” Kittitas County officials said in a press release Wednesday.

The officials said that in October, Washington state dismissed all unvaccinated state employees, which resulted in 48 state employees no longer working on snow removal efforts in Kittitas County.

In November, Kittitas County signed an agreement with the Washington State Department of Transportation at the request of the department, which cited reduced staffing issues.

County officials panned the state’s decision to reject their help and called for ideologies to be put aside to get the job done.

“During these times, we need to be able to put differences aside and work to support one another,” Kittitas County Commissioner Laura Osiadacz said in the press release. “It needs to be neighbors helping neighbors and lending a hand to get the work done.”

“This county is ready, as always, to put all hands on deck to solve this problem. It’s time for logic and leadership to overcome ideology and allow skilled equipment operators working alone in their cabs to get this job done,” Commissioner Cory Wright said.

Commissioner Brett Wachsmith said in the press release that so far, an agreement on snow clearing has been reached with the state.

“I’m extremely proud of the work being done by our Public Works Department to be able to clear roads and be in a place to be able to lend a helping hand to the State,” Wachsmith said. “It is unfortunate given the circumstances an agreement could not have come to fruition because we all want what is best for our community.”

Many places, especially major cities, are tightening their vaccine policies as the newest coronavirus variant, Omicron, spreads rapidly across the country.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration’s nationwide vaccine mandate for large employers was blocked on Thursday in a significant blow to the administration’s COVID-19 response.

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