Jin Yu Li had planned on getting vaccinated against COVID-19 — at some point. Then the chance to win hundreds of thousands of dollars pushed him over the edge and was enough for the 25-year-old to roll up his sleeve.
“I have to get vaccinated eventually. Why not do it when the incentive is in place?” Li said after getting his first jab Wednesday at the city of Seattle’s vaccination clinic in Rainier Beach.
Li and his younger brother Alan, who also received his first dose, waited with their fully vaccinated father, Jason, in a nearly empty area under a white tent along the shore of Lake Washington after their shots.
The brothers joined the roughly 3.9 million other Washingtonians who have received at least one dose of vaccine and are automatically entered into Gov. Jay Inslee’s vaccine prize lottery announced last week.
The first round of winners was notified Wednesday. A Washington’s Lottery spokesperson said the $250,000 winner had been reached and planned to claim the prize on Thursday. The drawings take place every Tuesday in June. The drawing for the big jackpot of $1 million is July 13.
The state’s lottery program is intended to encourage those who have yet to get their shots, with the aim of pushing the state to its goal of vaccinating at least 70% of residents 16 and older. Reaching that threshold could trigger a statewide reopening ahead of the planned June 30 reopening.
At a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Inslee said 66.4% of state residents have received at least an initial vaccine dose. That total was boosted in part by the state adding in 152,000 residents who received vaccines through the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs, the governor said.
Inslee reiterated the state will allow reopening from COVID-19 restrictions on June 30, even if the vaccination target is not met, but sooner if it is reached.
The governor also announced that after June 30, some restrictions will remain in place for large indoor facilities.
He said such venues that can hold crowds of 10,000 or more people will remain limited to 75% capacity. There will be no physical-distancing requirements, but attendees will have to abide by masking guidelines.
It’s too early to tell if the lottery incentives have had the desired effect, said Lacy Fehrenbach, the state Department of Health’s deputy secretary for COVID-19 response, at a news briefing Wednesday morning.
She said she’s heard anecdotally that clinics are full and bookings are up. The numbers should be in by next week, the six-month anniversary of the state’s vaccine launch.
The lottery was news to Xavier Robinson. The 17-year-old Seattle resident received his first dose of vaccine at the Rainier Beach site Wednesday because he wants to keep his family safe.
“I don’t want my family to get infected,” he said. “I just want this virus to die sooner rather than later.”
If you’ve been stressing out about whether you are entered in the vaccine lottery, DOH has good news. Wednesday morning, the agency reported that 3.9 million names had been successfully entered into the lottery. The state also reported that 3.9 million Washington residents have been vaccinated.
The department is also working to address problems with the MyIR website, a site operated by a vendor, where Washingtonians can look up their vaccine records to confirm they’re eligible for the lottery.
The department also offered guidance for those whose vaccine records weren’t in the state database. This group includes veterans, military personnel and others who received shots through federal institutions that do not share data with the state. In these cases, DOH is encouraging those who’ve been vaccinated to show their documents to their doctors, who can submit the information to the state on patients’ behalf.
Dr. Umair Shah, state secretary of health, said that in response to frustrations with the online system, the department is operating a fully staffed helpline: 833-829-4357.
When Washington Department of Corrections Secretary Stephen Sinclair announced his retirement earlier this year, the decision was framed as a voluntary winding down of a distinguished career.
In his Jan. 26 email to DOC employees, saying he’d retire effective May 1, Sinclair called it “a difficult decision, but one that I believe is best for me and my family.”
But Sinclair didn’t really have a choice. He was asked to step down — fired, essentially — by his boss, Gov. Jay Inslee, public records show.
At the time, Inslee did not say he’d pushed Sinclair out. In a news release, the governor praised Sinclair for his three decades at the DOC, including as secretary since 2017. Asked at a news conference in April whether he’d asked Sinclair to resign, Inslee refused to answer, calling it “irrelevant at this point.”
As is usually the case with top state agency officials, news of Sinclair’s departure was carefully choreographed, with a schedule worked out in consultation with the governor’s office in late January.
Staff at the DOC and governor’s office — aware their emails are public records — were generally careful in the written communications to betray no explicit sign that Sinclair was being forced out.
But Sinclair himself blew up the charade in responding to a draft of a “Tick Tock” schedule detailing precisely how his retirement would be revealed to agency employees, legislators and the public.
The Jan. 22 list, sent to Sinclair by Kelly Wicker, Inslee’s deputy chief of staff, included a seemingly performative task: “Steve notifies Governor.”
Sinclair appeared puzzled by that, based on his response, given the governor’s office involvement. He commented on the draft: “Why do I need to notify the Gov he is the one who asked me to leave?”
The notation was revealed in thousands of pages of emails and other documents released by the DOC after a Public Records Act request.
There was no explanation in those records as to why Inslee decided to make a change, and the governor’s office declined to shed any light.
But Sinclair’s ouster took place amid continuing publicity over health care lapses and negligence at state prisons, some leading to deaths and expensive lawsuits. A critical report by the Office of the Corrections Ombuds, which detailed deadly failures in cancer diagnosis and treatment, was delivered to Inslee shortly before Sinclair’s retirement announcement.
Tara Lee, a spokesperson for Inslee, said in an email the governor’s office generally does not comment on personnel issues “out of respect for all parties,” but that “the documents you have speak for themselves.”
“There were a number of reasons for this decision, but most importantly, the state needed to move in a different direction at the Department of Corrections. The governor has full confidence in Cheryl Strange as the new DOC secretary,” Lee said, referring to the state government veteran named to succeed Sinclair in late April.
Lee added: “The governor’s office won’t have more to say on this.”
All Cabinet-level state-agency leaders are appointed by the governor, subject to confirmation by the state Senate. The governor can remove them at will.
As governor since 2013, Inslee has not been known for publicly firing his appointees. He has staunchly defended some agency heads, even when they have faced blowback and calls for their firing, such as Suzi LeVine, the embattled former head of the state Employment Security Department, who left in January for a job in the Biden administration.
In an interview this week, Sinclair, 55, confirmed Inslee asked him to move on, but called the decision “mutually agreeable,” noting that he was eligible to receive retirement benefits after more than 30 years at the DOC.
“I don’t know how much of this I want to get into, because for me, it’s kind of like water under the bridge,” he said. “I think it worked out pretty well that I was in a position to retire. To me, the why doesn’t matter that much.”
Sinclair said he did not know why he was let go. Asked whether Inslee spoke with him directly about his decision, he said “not initially, no.” But he emphasized he didn’t want to clash with the governor, noting he still wants to seek work in the corrections field, possibly as a consultant or expert witness.
Despite his written questioning of having to “notify” Inslee of his retirement that the governor was well aware of, Sinclair played along, records show. He formally submitted a notice of his retirement to Wicker on Jan. 22, writing that he “appreciated the Governor’s faith in me and the opportunity to lead the agency.”
Sinclair got his start as a correctional officer at Walla Walla State Penitentiary in 1988. He worked his way up, becoming an investigator, sergeant, and eventually a prison superintendent and assistant DOC secretary. Inslee named him secretary in April 2017.
As secretary, Sinclair managed a penal system with nearly 15,000 incarcerated people at the state’s dozen prisons, and another 20,000 under community supervision. His annual salary was $186,888.
Over the past year, he had to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, which spread through DOC facilities, causing 14 deaths of incarcerated people and two DOC staff. The prison system took steps to sanitize rooms and sped up some early releases, but it faced criticism and lawsuits seeking more decisive steps.
Sinclair defended his agency’s COVID-19 record, pointing out that the DOC saw fewer deaths compared with many other prison systems. “Contrary to what the naysayers might be saying, look at the data — we kept people alive at a greater rate,” he said.
Data tracked by the COVID Prison Project shows many states did have more coronavirus deaths in their prisons, including 260 in Texas and 224 in California. In Oregon, 42 incarcerated people died.
Sinclair said he also was proud to start the DOC’s transformation toward a focus on rehabilitation as opposed to punishment. Such reforms have accelerated as the public and politicians have noted the deep racial inequities who gets sent to prison and for how long.
Sinclair and other top DOC leaders have supported efforts to shorten prison sentences by minimizing prison time for some nonviolent offenders and boosting time off for good behavior.
“There are so many things we do to oppress,” Sinclair said of the prison system. “Eventually, you get to the point of ‘we really need to help these people if we want them to not come back and be successful.’”
While he won’t be able to lead those efforts at DOC any more, Sinclair said he has enjoyed his semiretirement so far after years in a high-pressure role.
“It’s been wonderful. The amount of stress you carry around with those jobs is horrendous,” he said. “I knew going into it, it was a time-limited position. Something gets you at some point.”
The Yakima County Board of Health voted down a motion Wednesday night not to contradict laws or ordinances at the local, state or federal level.
The proposed motion, which read “No motion should contradict any state, federal or local laws, ordinances or statutes, and must adhere to the best interest of public health and the goals and missions of the Yakima Health District,” was proposed by health board member Naila Duval, a Toppenish City Council member.
Duval said motions that contradict laws, regulations, mandates, or local or state health officers make her uncomfortable and cause “more harm than good.”
“In doing so, we undermine our credibility and contribute to government mistrust,” she said. “Board members need to stop politicizing this platform and focus on the public health of everyone in Yakima County.”
Board member Dr. Dave Atteberry commented that he did not believe dissenting approaches were political.
“When people bring forward ideas to this committee and this board, it’s because they believe they are acting in the best interest of the public health of the people of Yakima County,” he said.
He also said that some of the board’s decisions had been swiftly followed by changes in policy at the state or national level in the past, “so we’re ahead of the curve in many ways.”
Commissioners LaDon Linde and Amanda McKinney, as well as Mayor Patricia Byers, agreed with Atteberry, saying the board represents differing views on what is in the best interest of local public health from across the county.
Andre Fresco, executive director of the Yakima Health District, said the district is required to follow the law and the recommendations or motions by the board contradicting the law are concerning, which board member Dr. Sean Cleary agreed with.
“A law is a law and if you violate it, you’ve broken the law,” Cleary said, adding the the board should instead find creative ways within the law to serve the local community’s needs.
The motion ultimately failed to pass after McKinney, Linde, Byers and Atteberry voted against it. Cleary, Duval and Commissioner Ron Anderson voted in favor, for a 4-3 vote.
But the board did pass a motion proposed by Anderson to delay the passing of motions that are non-emergency related. Motions must now be on a meeting agenda in advance to be voted on in an effort to allow time for board members, health district staff and the community to study issues and provide input. The motion passed 6-1, with McKinney voting against it.
The next board of health meeting is scheduled for June 30. During that meeting, the board is expected to review how other health bodies approach health marketing to youths. They will also discuss candidates for the county health officer position during an executive session. They will be joined in the first half of the executive session by Fresco as well as health district Chief Operating Officer Ryan Ibach and Director of Disease Control Melissa Sixberry to provide information to the board in the hiring process.