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Washington health officials caution against growing push to quickly reopen state

(WA Dept. of Health, Facebook)

With states like Texas pushing forward with plans to fully reopen, Republicans in the Washington Legislature have unveiled their own proposal, which would aim to have the state return to 100% capacity for all activities and businesses within the next month. That proposal had Washington health officials cautioning against a more aggressive approach to reopening.

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The Republican proposal would first move all counties in the state into Phase 3 of reopening, and have all restaurants, bars, gyms, movie theaters, entertainment venues, and more operating at 50% capacity. In that phase, all K-12 schools would also “immediately return to the classroom for in-person instruction.”

If there is “no significant spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations,” all activities and businesses would return to 100% capacity, with bars and restaurants again able to serve alcohol until 2 a.m. Counties that wish to remain in their current phase would “need to demonstrate why based on trends in case and hospital admission rates.”

State health officials expressed concerns over several facets of that plan Thursday.

“We do not believe this is the time to go aggressively with reopening,” Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah said during the state DOH’s weekly briefing. “I am concerned about the narrative across the country — we’re not out of this pandemic.”

As of late this week, the state reports that 15% of Washington residents have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. And while cases have trended downward in 2021, that decline has largely plateaued in recent weeks, according to the CDC.

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That has officials aiming for a more deliberate approach to reopening, correlating with continued increases in vaccinations and more significant declines in case rates.

“We want to be very methodical with the road ahead,” Dr. Shah said. “What that really gets us to is taking the considerable time it requires in order to make good decisions about what the path forward is.”

Lacy Fehrenbach, deputy secretary for the COVID-19 response in Washington state, further expanded on that plan, likening Washington’s reopening approach to a marathon.

“We’re in mile 21 [of 26] of a marathon right now,” she said. “The finish line is there, and it’s not time to slow down or give up — we’ve got to go through to the finish.”

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