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Jay Inslee, pause, reopening
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Gov. Inslee defends decision to roll three counties back to Phase 2

Gov. Jay Inslee. (TVW)

Gov. Jay Inslee has fielded frequent criticism this week following a decision to roll three counties back to Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan. On Thursday, he addressed those concerns, defending the move as essential in order to avoid a fourth wave of COVID-19 cases.

Gee & Ursula: What can the state do instead of a rollback to Phase 2?

In order to remain in Phase 3, large counties need to have 200 or fewer new cases per 100,000 residents over two weeks and five or fewer hospitalizations per 100,000 residents over the past week. Pierce, Cowlitz, and Whitman counties fell short of both metrics when data was evaluated early this week, and will be moved to Phase 2, effective Friday.

While leaders in all three counties have been vocal in their opposition to the rollback, Inslee said Thursday that he believes “the action we’ve taken has been quite measured.”

“This is not without a lot of thought — we don’t do this cavalierly,” he said. “We’ve thought deeply about this. Fundamentally, we’re about saving lives and that’s what we’re doing.”

COVID-19 activity has been trending upward statewide in recent weeks, with the state now seeing over 1,000 new cases a day, similar to what was seen during last summer’s second wave.

That had Inslee voicing concerns that the state is now standing on the edge of a fourth wave, and that “we cannot wait until that wave engulfs us.”

“The science has told us that the virus is not waiting for us; the virus is not done with us,” he said. “When I see numbers going up, it’s extremely disconcerting. The virus doesn’t allow us to call a timeout, and that’s why we’ve had to act.”

Ross: No more going backwards and shutting down what’s open

As to why Inslee opted for a more targeted approach to rollbacks rather than moving the entire state to Phase 2, he argued that it wouldn’t have made sense for many other counties where case rates have largely been kept under control.

“There was enough disparity between our communities that it wasn’t appropriate to have a one-size-fits-all [approach],” he said.

As of early this week, 30 out of 39 Washington counties were meeting both required metrics to remain in Phase 3, while another six were failing to meet one of two.

For counties where cases are rising, Inslee urged residents to take any activities and gatherings outside to help minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19.

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