Opinion: Gov. Inslee wants to be remembered for COVID-19 response?

Elizabeth Hovde of the Washington Policy Center doesn’t think Gov. Jay Inslee should remind people of his legacy COVID response.

Elizabeth Hovde doesn’t think Gov. Jay Inslee should remind people of his legacy COVID response

Elizabeth Hovde
Washington Policy Center

I’m going through all my notes about the policy proposals I followed during the just-adjourned 2024 legislative session, and I’m reading and watching recaps from various sources. As part of that, I saw a March 7 media availability with Gov. Jay Inslee. 

Elizabeth Hovde, Washington Policy Center
Elizabeth Hovde, Washington Policy Center

The departing governor was asked what he thinks about his legacy. First, he admirably said he gave it his all every day and had good help from other lawmakers to do some “quite spectacular” things. Then he narrowed in on two things that stand out to him as things that he did well. 

One was climate action in Washington state. That was to be expected, as he considers climate politics a signature issue. Before that, however, he praised his COVID-19 response. A legacy moment? I suppose so, in that the COVID response he led will have long-lasting impact. But it is not something I would boast about. 

Inslee destroyed people’s careers with a strict, discriminatory, long-lasting vaccine mandate that he, for a time, made permanent for state workers. He also stigmatized people who didn’t receive the initial COVID vaccines or additional boosters, regardless of age, health factors, risk-benefit analysis or advice from medical providers to individuals.

“I’m confident that we saved thousands of lives,” Inslee said Thursday. “If we had the same fatality rate as Mississippi, we would have lost another 18,000 Washingtonians.” 

The back-patting felt so 2022. Like then, he credited his pandemic era policy moves generously and erroneously. 

Death rates were not dependent on mask and vaccine mandates. Comparative data at the time of Washington state’s COVID vaccine mandate showed that four states beating us when it came to having the lowest cumulative death rates per 100,000 did not have vaccine mandates on government employees (Alaska and Utah) or had them but allowed for testing alternatives (Hawaii and Vermont). Also, the vast majority of people harmed by and dying with COVID-19 were outside of working ages. Finally, and perhaps most frustratingly, during the mandate we were aware people could contract or spread COVID-19 regardless of their vaccination status. Despite all this, Inslee kept his discriminatory and punitive mandate, harming reputations, family budgets and state services. 

In 2022, like this week, Inslee chose to compare Washington state to Mississippi, a state that had one of the highest death rates. He should have been open to more comparisons and data, and he should have incorporated all our state lawmakers before and during his vaccine mandate on workers. Instead, he used emergency orders to shut people and balance out of COVID-19 policies — policies that were not reflective of the emerging science or numbers and that certainly didn’t age well.

The Legislature still needs to reform emergency powers in Washington state. The legislative body also has ignored opportunities to right some of the wrongs against state workers and caregivers whose careers were interrupted. 

Hardline mandates during pandemic times were never appropriate. If I were Inslee, I would not remind people of his legacy COVID response.

Elizabeth Hovde is a policy analyst and the director of the Centers for Health Care and Worker’s Rights at the Washington Policy Center. She is a Clark County resident.

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