High rates of compliance for Kitsap workers who faced COVID-19 vaccination deadline – Kitsap Sun

Monday marked the last day that a swath of people across a variety of sectors in Washington could validate their COVID-19 vaccination status to meet Gov. Jay Inslee’s vaccination mandate.

Kitsap County agencies affected by the mandate — fire department first responders, hospitals, teachers, state employees and others — reported high compliance rates to the Kitsap Sun.

Fire agencies in Poulsbo and Bainbridge Island reported 100% compliance, for example. School districts in Kitsap and North Mason ranged from 90% to 96% in results reported by Tuesday afternoon.

But some agencies reported losing personnel because of the requirement. Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue lost 11 volunteers, according to that agency’s chief. The North Mason School District lost three employees, according to the superintendent. 

Coronavirus news: Deadline arrives for state workers to prove they’re fully vaccinated

While the Washington State Patrol reported that statewide, 74 Washington State Patrol officers left the agency by the deadline to prove vaccination, no troopers based in Kitsap County were reported as among the resignations.

Inslee gave affected workers a Monday deadline to submit verification that they were vaccinated. The Kitsap Sun contacted school districts, agencies and organizations throughout Kitsap County to see the effects of the requirement. The following are the responses received by noon on Tuesday.

Virginia Mason Franciscan Health

In a statement sent to the Kitsap Sun on Monday, Virginia Mason Franciscan Health Chief Medical Officer Michael Anderson said, “Virginia Mason Franciscan Health requires the COVID-19 vaccine for employees and anyone who works in our facilities. We made this decision in advance of Washington state’s requirement, and we are fully complying with the state’s policy, including today’s vaccination deadline. Over 95% of our employees across our facilities have now met the vaccination requirement through full vaccination or an approved exemption.”

VMFH, the parent of St. Michael Medical Center and many clinics in Kitsap County, did not release a facility-by-facility breakdown. 

Fire districts 

Bremerton Fire Chief Pat McGanney reported that three employees were approved for exemptions and accommodations. The balance of staff have been vaccinated and no employees were leaving the department over the requirement, McGanney said.

In Central Kitsap, CKFR Chief John Oliver said that the agency was in compliance with the vaccination mandate and that five exemptions and accommodations had been approved. Requirements for those individuals include periodic testing, mandatory personal protective equipment and social distancing, he said.

The agency will lose 11 volunteer firefighters but no paid staff, Oliver said.

The loss of volunteers won’t affect public safety, Oliver said, “But it is an impact because we have investments in those people, training, equipment. But it won’t affect public safety and the delivery of service.”

Vaccine deadline: Kitsap firefighter unions push back on mandate for health care workers

For North Kitsap Fire and Rescue, spokeswoman Michèle Laboda said in an email to the Kitsap Sun that NKFR was in compliance with the mandate. Two career members applied for and received medical or religious exemptions, and one volunteer member chose to separate from service.

Poulsbo Fire Chief Jim Gillard reported that 100% of staff and volunteers were vaccinated. On Bainbridge Island, Bainbridge Fire Chief Hank Teran reported that 100% of emergency responders were vaccinated.

South Kitsap Fire and Rescue Chief Jeff Faucett did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

School districts

In the Central Kitsap School District, 90.4% of staff is fully vaccinated, 8% of the staff has been granted religious or medical exemptions and 1.4% of the staff is currently on leave prior to becoming fully vaccinated, according to spokesman David Beil. 

CKSD normally experiences staff resignations throughout the year, so the district doesn’t know if resignations were specifically related to the mandate, Beil said, but added the district didn’t see a large number of last-minute resignations. 0.2% of the staff, whose employment has been terminated, did not vaccinate or seek an exemption, according to Beil.

 “We are still facing a shortage of staff members and substitutes, and we hope to continue filling those positions as the school year continues,” Beil said.

In the North Kitsap School District, as of Monday, 93% of staff is fully vaccinated and 7% of the staff have an approved medical or religious exemption, said district spokeswoman Jenn Markaryan. The district didn’t release how many employees have left as a result of the mandate.

“In order to uphold employee privacy, we will not share individual personnel or medical information,” Markaryan said.

The district has seen resignations and retirements on pace with previous years, she said, adding that as a result of the pandemic, the district continues to recruit and hire for open positions in a variety of areas.

In the Bainbridge Island School District, 96% of the staff is fully vaccinated. Nineteen staff members were granted exemptions and none have resigned as a result of the vaccine mandate, said spokeswoman Erin Bischoff.

There are also some staff members who are in the process of completing their vaccines and are on appropriate leave until their vaccination schedule is completed, Bischoff said.

In the North Mason School District, 90% of the staff is fully vaccinated and 37 staff members have been granted religious or medical exemptions, North Mason School District Superintendent Dana Rosenbach said. Three employees resigned because of the vaccine mandate. 

She said the district is currently recruiting substitutes for all positions.

Requests for information were not returned by deadline by the Bremerton School District or the South Kitsap School District. 

Washington State Patrol

Though 74 Washington State Patrol officers left the agency for “varying reasons and in varying ways” at the deadline Monday to show proof of vaccination — 67 troopers, six sergeants, and one captain — no troopers based in Kitsap County were reported to have “separated,” Sgt. Gill Vandenkooy said.

However, the State Patrol’s District 8, which includes Kitsap and encompasses the Olympic Peninsula, had 10 troopers leave.

COVID-19 has been especially deadly for U.S. law enforcement officers, becoming the number one killer of officers in 2020 and 2021, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page. “Getting vaccinated is just as important as wearing your vest and your seatbelt,” according to the site that honors officers who died in the line of duty. 

Locally, Bainbridge Island Police Officer Kurtis James Enget’s death on April 10, 2020, death was attributed to COVID-19. Enget was 49 and died prior to the release of vaccines. COVID-19 also touched the state’s police agency, with State Patrol Detective Eric Gunderson, 38, dying of COVID-19 on Sept. 26. Gunderson was not vaccinated.

In a message to personnel Monday, State Patrol Chief John Batiste thanked troopers who were leaving along with troopers who remained.

“I thank you for staying on post and staying in service to this state and agency. Better days are ahead. Believe that and know I believe in you,” Batiste wrote, according to the statement Tuesday. In addition to troopers, 53 non-officer State Patrol employees also left.

Vandenkooy said Kitsap-based troopers could be pulled into surrounding counties to cover shifts, leading to longer days. He said there were mixed feelings about the departure of the employees. While morale is high among troopers and their immediate command, Vandenkooy said faith in the state’s leadership has collapsed.

Officers have to trust each other and also trust leadership to look out for them and their families, Vandenkooy said.

“We care about our people but we all knew we took an oath to protect the public,” he said. 

Beyond that, though, the mandate has eroded trust in the government, he said.

“If there was a semblance of trust before this point it’s gone now,” Vandenkooy said.

Chris Loftus, a spokesman for the agency based in Olympia, said the state government is not the enemy.

“COVID is the enemy here,” Loftus said. “If you keep that in the forefront, and realize how dangerous for the economy and health it is, you realize the people addressing COVID are trying to make things better for all of us.”

Washington State Ferries

Washington State Ferries spokesman Ian Sterling said Monday afternoon that the transit agency had about 200 employees that hadn’t yet validated their vaccination status, estimating that about 87% of employees were vaccinated. Updated information was not immediately available Tuesday morning.

Kitsap Sun reporters Andrew Binion, Josh Farley, Peiyu Lin and Nathan Pilling contributed to this report. 

Note: A Washington State Patrol spokesman estimated seven troopers left District 8, which includes Kitsap County, but the agency later released exact numbers showing 10 troopers left the district. This story was modified to include the recent numbers.