If you live in the Seattle area—or anywhere in Washington State, for that matter—you've undoubtedly been following the controversy surrounding the recent vaccine mandate for government workers. What's the latest story, and how has the new Omicron COVID variant impacted it?
In October 2021, city workers, including police officers and firefighters, were required to submit proof of vaccination or exemption paperwork.
Shortly after that, then-Mayor Jenny Durkan issued a statement reporting a high level of compliance with the mandate. Some 98% of the city’s first responders, the mayor's office said, had filed vaccine verification or exemption forms. At the same time, Seattle Police Department reported that its officers were 92% vaccinated, while the fire department checked in with a 93% vaccination rate among its employees.
Only a handful of fire department and police department employees refused to follow the mandate and were terminated. The day after the vaccine requirement went into effect, some former first responders marched on City Hall to “turn in their boots” in protest.
And Then Came Omicron
Of course, the mandate and the consequent pushback happened in the fall, well before the COVID Omicron variant sent infection rates soaring in King County. Just days before Christmas, cases of COVID quadrupled, jumping from 617 cases on Wednesday, December 22, to 2,879 reported on Thursday, December 23.
The Omicron variant has shown to be significantly milder than the previous incarnations of the disease and much more contagious. It might not be causing as many deaths as the Delta variant, but it's still straining the capacity of hospitals and other public services on Seattle streets and around the country.
Omicron's Effect on First Responder Staffing
According to Seattle Officer Mike Solan, president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild, some 300 officers out of its usual 1,350 were currently out of commission due to Omicron as of December 24th, 2021.
“It's difficult for our community because they're waiting for that call for help,” he said. “And then we're at risk because we don't have the proper safe numbers to have a safe working environment when we answer that call for help.”
What if I'm in a Car Accident and Police Can't Respond?
The odds of this happening are very good, given the first responder shortages we've discussed. If you are involved in an accident, follow these crucial steps.
First, if anyone is injured, or if the vehicular damage is significant, call 911 immediately and wait for help to arrive.
If the collision was minor, resulting in no injuries, you can report the collision online. In either case, there are a few things to take care of before you leave the scene:
- Exchange insurance information with the other parties involved. Do not engage with them or get into an altercation. If any other drivers or passengers behave in a threatening or violent manner, or if you fear for your safety, return to your vehicle and stay there until emergency responders arrive. Importantly, make sure to write down the other drivers' license plate numbers.
- Document the accident scene by taking photos and videos of the scene. Be sure to capture damage to the vehicles, any road or weather conditions that might have played a role in the accident, and other important factors—think broken guardrails, downed stoplights, and obscured road signs.
- Talk to eyewitnesses. Get their contact information so that police can interview them in the event of a dispute.
- It can be difficult to think clearly when your adrenaline is pumping, but keeping a cool head and gathering all the available evidence may prove valuable. Later on, this could dramatically impact your chances of receiving compensation from an at-fault driver.
Lastly, give me a call right away at (206) 464-1952. In the meantime, I'm staying on top of the Omicron situation and its impact on emergency services, so you don't have to.