Opinion: New CDC guideline highlights miscalculation in state firing unvaccinated WSDOT employees

In mid-October, Governor Inslee and WSDOT Secretary Roger Millar fired over 400 employees in order to comply with the governor’s vaccine mandate.

In mid-October, Governor Inslee and WSDOT Secretary Roger Millar fired over 400 employees in order to comply with the governor’s vaccine mandate

Mariya Frost
Washington Policy Center

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has again changed COVID guidelines, putting Washington in the position of keeping COVID-positive employees who are vaccinated, after having fired unvaccinated employees who are not infected or have already had COVID.

Mariya Frost
Mariya Frost

In mid-October, Governor Inslee and Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) Secretary Roger Millar fired over 400 employees at WSDOT in order to comply with the governor’s vaccine mandate. Many employees who submitted requests for a religious or medical exemption to the vaccine were fired even after exemptions had been approved.

The spin from WSDOT communications staff has been confusing and disjointed. WSDOT admits the agency was suffering from a staffing shortage before the layoffs, yet proceeded with layoffs that made the shortage (and its consequences this winter) worse. WSDOT officials have said that though their crews are doing the best they can, the agency cannot provide the same level of service as they did in previous years, which may increase the duration of closures. They also note that it “bums” them out when they “have trucks with no drivers” and “see a resource…we would normally be using, but we can’t use it.” Despite the position they’ve put themselves in, officials now insist that the frequency of road closures have not been due to the agency’s lack of drivers but rather the heavy snow and winds.  

COVID guidelines are fluid, so it’s no surprise that in late December, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued another new guideline that shortened the recommended isolation time for people who have tested positive for COVID-19 – from 10 days to 5 if they aren’t exhibiting symptoms. So, in theory, a vaccinated person who is infected with COVID can go back to work after 5 days, with a mask. 

The CDC said that, “The change is motivated by science demonstrating that the majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs early in the course of illness, generally in the 1-2 days prior to onset of symptoms and the 2-3 days after.”

Being vaccinated does not guarantee reduced transmission rates, as evidenced by King County, where infections increased 195% over seven days. King County has some of the highest vaccination rates and the most restrictive policies short of a lockdown.

Dr. Anthony Fauci has noted that the reason for the new CDC guideline “is that with the sheer volume of new cases that we are having and that we expect to continue with Omicron, one of the things we want to be careful of is that we don’t have so many people out…I mean, obviously if you have symptoms you should [be out], but if you are asymptomatic and you are infected we want to get people back to jobs — particularly those with essential jobs to keep our society running smoothly.” This is a remarkable statement in that it’s the first time federal officials have really acknowledged that there are trade-offs that cannot be ignored in balancing COVID safety measures and the ability of people to put food on the table and keep our economy functioning.

Due to political backlash, the CDC was expected to narrow the guideline, perhaps to include a testing component in addition to the new shortened isolation period. But late Tuesday, they doubled down instead, keeping the test optional. 

Governor Inslee’s proclamations have largely reflected CDC guidelines so it will be interesting to see if he changes the current state rules to match the latest guidelines. If the Governor relaxes the current mandate to align with the CDC, officials will have to deal with the reality of allowing vaccinated, infected employees back at work, after having fired unvaccinated, uninfected employees.

Mariya Frost is the director of the Coles Center for Transportation at the Washington Policy Center.


  1. Margaret

    Some WA workers who were terminated are taking action to fight for their rights. InformedChoiceWA.org has compiled information about what some WA employees facing mandates are doing.

    144 Research Studies Affirm Naturally Acquired Immunity to Covid-19: Documented, Linked, and Quoted“We should not force COVID vaccines on anyone when the evidence shows that naturally acquired immunity is equal to or more robust and superior to existing vaccines. Instead, we should respect the right of the bodily integrity of individuals to decide for themselves. Public health officials and the medical establishment with the help of the politicized media are misleading the public with assertions that the COVID-19 shots provide greater protection than natural immunity…
    Immunology and virology 101 have taught us over a century that natural immunity confers protection against a respiratory virus’s outer coat proteins, and not just one, e.g. the SARS-CoV-2 spike glycoprotein. There is even strong evidence for the persistence of antibodies. Even the CDC recognizes natural immunity for chicken-pox and measles, mumps, and rubella, but not for COVID-19.”

    WA state Health policy and law does recognize natural immunity already — SO WHY are employers and the state not exempting all those with natural immunity from all Covid shot mandates? See the titer box on the Certificate of Immunization form for daycare and school requirements in WA. Lab tests or a physicians attestation of having had the disease count as “immunity”.
    It seems the marketing aims of Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson, the Gates Foundation and others are likely the main reason natural immunity for COVID is being ignored thus far in WA state. .

    1. Bill Popp

      Great concise commentary, Margaret. This COVID 19 lock-step political, medical, and media misinformation program at both our state and the Federal level will go down as one of the major missteps in the efforts to restore trust in our government and ergo the democracy.


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