Lewis, Thuston, Grays Harbor and Pacific counties are among the first wave of reopening efforts realized under Gov. Jay Inslee’s newest COVID-19 plan, as the governor announced their region is eligible to move to the next phase on Monday.
During a press conference Thursday afternoon, Inslee announced that two of the state’s eight regions defined in the “Healthy Washington” plan the governor announced earlier this month would be moving into the next phase of reopening. The regions — Puget Sound and West — will be able to lift some restrictions come Feb. 1.
Regions in Phase 2 can allow restaurants to have 25 percent capacity indoor dining, and fitness centers can operate inside at the same capacity amount, the governor said. Sports competitions can resume with limited spectators, though school-based competitions follow a different set of rules, and wedding and funeral services can increase their capacity above Phase 1 restrictions.
Inslee noted that the regions moving forward represented about half of the state’s population. He explained that now, regions only need to meet three out of four criteria, which includes recent case rates, hospitalizations, intensive care unit capacity and test positivity percentage.
Inslee added that regions relapsing into past phases remained unchanged, which would involve a region missing two of the aforementioned four criteria.
Inslee added that the timeframe for evaluating the criteria would be shifted to a two-week evaluation, as opposed to the previously weekly one, which the governor said would provide greater stability for the plan.
“If you have a bad week, and if we just have a week’s evaluation, that means you might have to go backwards just because of a bad week,” Inslee said.
Inslee mentioned that earlier that day he had visited the mass vaccination site at the Clark County Fairgrounds in Ridgefield, alongside new Washington state Health Secretary Dr. Umair Shah. The governor said he was “really impressed” with the work at the site, remarking that there was “such a great consortium of multiple organizations” including pharmacies, the Washington National Guard and the fairgrounds itself. The site was vaccinating about 700 individuals daily, he noted, adding that the National Guard was also conducting mobile clinics to improve accessibility for individuals who may not be able to get to one of the mass vaccination sites.
Inslee noted that the state was able to vaccinate just shy of 40,000 individuals per day over the past weekend. As of the press conference, the governor said about 545,000 doses had been administered in Washington in total.
“Right now, we’ve got a lot more people that would like the vaccine than doses exist to be available,” Inslee remarked. He said there were about 1.7 million Washingtonians eligible to receive the vaccine in the current phase of the state’s approach, adding later that 89 percent of COVID-19 fatalities in the state were individuals in the current groups eligible for vaccination.
Inslee’s external affairs director Nick Streuli said that the experience vaccine recipients would have with regard to getting their second dose of the vaccine was dependent on what provider was administering the vaccine. The governor acknowledged that resources available weren’t meeting the needs of the sheer demand for the vaccine.
“Yes; there is cause for frustration,” Inslee said, “but I know Washingtonians are strong, resilient, persistent and we are going to get through this together.”
Acknowledging the toll that restrictions have had on many businesses, Inslee stood by his administration’s decisions in responding to the pandemic.
“What he have (done) in Washington state has worked, and is working,” Inslee said. “The kind of decisions that we have made to date have been proven by the evidence to be well-justified, both by science and experience.”
“If we had not done the kind of things we have done, we may have had another 7-or-8,000 dead people in the state of Washington,” Inslee said.
Even for those who have been vaccinated, Inslee stressed it was important to continue adhering to preventative measures, as “the science is not clear yet” on the chance for those vaccinated to spread COVID-19. He stressed the importance for all the state’s residents to continue practicing the protocols to prevent a resurgence of disease activity.
“If we relax too much, we could be back in the horrific days of this (disease) with exponential growth,” Inslee remarked.
Local lawmakers delivered statements after Inslee’s announcement, with state Rep. Peter Abbarno, R-Centralia, voicing frustration that the governor did not go further in lifting restrictions. “While this is very good news for Southwest Washington counties like Lewis, Thurston and Grays Harbor, it reinforces the arbitrary and subjective basis for the governor’s reopening plan,” Abbarno wrote in a prepared statement. “I’m disappointed our other counties, including Clark and Cowlitz, have been left behind. That means our small businesses in those areas will continue to struggle and many people will remain without jobs. Again, I call on the governor to move all counties to Phase 2 and base future reopening decisions on the real science and transmission data.”
In the 19th District, Sen. Jeff Wilson, R-Longview, struck a similar tune.
“It’s good as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough,” Wilson said. “The decision-making is so arbitrary that half my district is in and half of it is out. If it’s OK to eat a hamburger indoors in Aberdeen, why is it not OK in Longview? I’m not saying this isn’t appreciated. It is. But what’s good for Seattle and Tacoma ought to be good for everybody in the state of Washington.”