Inslee Announces Pause on Regional Reopening Rollbacks; Braun Criticizes Lack of Phase 3

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All eight regions defined under Washington state’s plan for reopening businesses and activities shuttered in response to the COVID-19 pandemic can rest easy that they won’t see themselves revert back to past restrictions, as Gov. Jay Inslee announced a “pause” in changes to regions’ phases Thursday.

During a press conference Feb. 25, Inslee made the announcement that no region would be in danger of moving backward in the state’s “Healthy Washington” reopening plan for the next several weeks. He said the decision was due to “incredible progress” made statewide in dropping the COVID-19 infection rate recently.

Inslee said that the average of new COVID-19 cases in the latest wave of the disease had been at about 3,000 per day; now that average is below 1,000 daily.

“Wearing masks and being safe is the reason we are knocking these numbers down,” Inslee said, adding that the state can’t let up on taking those preventative measures with the potential end of the pandemic in sight. He noted that a number of new variants of the disease have been reported in Washington, which have the potential for increased transmission.

While the pause is in place, Inslee said the state would be working with public health partners, local elected officials, workers and businesses on what subsequent phases of the Healthy Washington plan will look like.

With all regions of the state currently in Phase 2, Inslee said he did not want to provide any details on what Phase 3 would work like at this point given the potential that those ideas could be premature, based on whatever is discovered through the planning stages to come in the next several weeks.

“We’re trying to be entirely transparent and honest with people, and we’ll do that as soon as we possibly can,” Inslee said, “but I will tell you that we’re moving forward. That’s the direction we want.”

Inslee said that new information on the new variants and their impact on the pandemic would also play a part in the crafting of subsequent phases of the Healthy Washington reopening plan. Vaccination efficacy was another aspect, he said, noting that the state has been able to hit more than 45,000 vaccinations daily — a goal for the state at the outset of vaccine administration.

The governor said the state needed more vaccine doses coming in before it could increase that rate further, explaining the state had the overall capacity to administer “many times more” what it is currently receiving.

The number of vaccines the state receives from the federal government is growing, as Inslee said that the Biden Administration has been able to increase the amount of vaccines distributed by 57 percent since the new president took office.

Both the potential impacts of new COVID-19 variants and the effectiveness and ability to distribute vaccines would be chief among questions the next few weeks and will be the focus of as the state remains in Phase 2 of reopening.

“We will be talking to everybody that we can find on the planet Earth that will help us answer these questions,” Inslee said.

Following the public health aspect of planning, the governor added there would be talks with business communities on how they can effectively expand operations while still preventing COVID-19 spread, as well as talks with labor and equity representatives to address issues in the state’s fight against the disease.

Depending on what is discovered in the planning phases, Inslee said that regions moving into Phase 3 could potentially happen before the end of March.

Republican Senate leader responds

Following Inslee’s announcement, Washington state Senate Republican Leader John Braun said that the lack of a definition of what Phase 3 will look like signaled “a dead end on the governor’s roadmap” for reopening across the state.

“His administration has already had seven weeks to figure out what Phase 3 could look like, but now he says it will take several more weeks to ‘gather information’ before deciding what’s next. We should have had the details about Phase 3 already,” Braun, R-Centralia, said in a statement after the press conference. He said the governor “gave the impression that the number of COVID-19 cases and hospital admissions and other metrics tied to the roadmap may no longer be as relevant.”

“The businesses that are now stuck indefinitely in Phase 2 — which is half as open as they could be four months ago — deserve more clarity than he offered today,” Braun said in the statement.

He said that Inslee should visit businesses affected by how restrictions have impacted their operations.

“I’ve been encouraged that the governor is visiting schools to talk about how students can return to classrooms safely. Next time he should also stop by a local restaurant or two, or a fitness center, and gather information,” Braun said in the statement. “That could help him to define Phase 3 sooner than April.”

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