Gov. Inslee: Washington state on track for full reopening by June 30
That light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel appears to be getting much brighter. It was just a few weeks ago that Governor Inslee and state health officials warned the fourth wave of COVID-19 hitting our state could have a dire impact, especially with new variants becoming more dominant.
Nearly two weeks ago it started to look like case rates were hitting a plateau, and now it seems they’re declining. Because of the progress the state has made, Gov. Inslee said Thursday that Washington is on track for a full reopening by June 30.
That full reopening could come even sooner, Inslee says, if 70% or more of Washington residents 16 and older have at least initiated their vaccination before then. Right now, the state health department says 57% percent of those 16 and older have initiated their vaccination, while nearly 44% are fully vaccinated.
Gov. Inslee says those numbers and current trends appear to put us at late June for a full reopening, but he’s hopeful more people will be encouraged to get vaccinated to allow the state to reopen sooner.
In the meantime, starting Tuesday, every county will have the opportunity to be in Phase 3, including those that had been rolled back and are currently in Phase 2.
“This does not change local decision making,” Inslee noted, clarifying that counties can still choose to remain in or move to Phase 2 if local officials feel that’s necessary.
Inslee says most indoor activities will remain at 50% capacity until June 30, at which time restaurants, bars, movie theatres and the vast majority of public spaces will be able to return to full capacity.
Gov. Inslee stresses that does not mean an end to the state of emergency on June 30 because the extraordinary emergency created by this pandemic continues, according to the governor, who says the virus is not done with us yet.
However, this does mark a shift in the state’s COVID-19 response as we move into a new chapter — away from restrictions to vaccinations.
The governor warned there is one metric that could delay this progress toward full reopening, and that is ICU capacity. Inslee says if the ICU capacity ever hit 90% statewide during the emergency, they will rollback activities again in order to save lives.
For now, the focus is on Phase 3 and increasing vaccination rates. To that end, Inslee says his team is looking what some other states have done to provide incentives to get vaccinated, including allowing additional activities with fewer restrictions and increasing capacity for groups of fully vaccinated people.
As the state looks for ways to entice people to vaccinate, Inslee did say that the Department of Commerce has teamed up with the Association of Washington Business to fund gift cards to local businesses for residents who are recently vaccinated. The Liquor & Cannabis Board is working on a request from wineries and breweries to allow them to “buy a glass or a pint” for vaccinated customers.
And starting with tonight’s home game, the Mariners will be giving away prizes to vaccinated fans at the games from partners like T-Mobile, Alaska Airlines, Microsoft, Costco, Nordstrom and more.
Governor Inslee says they’ll also look at other ideas to entice people to get their vaccinations, which he says they consider a key piece of Washington’s economic recovery.
Additionally, spectator events, such as indoor and outdoor sports, will no longer have limits on the number of vaccinated attendees. Small cruise ships with less than 250 passengers can sail if the crew and 95% of the passengers are vaccinated. This will apply to conferences and live performances as well, and weddings and funeral receptions can be at full capacity as long as everyone is vaccinated.
That new guidance will be released as soon as it’s finished.
The state is reviewing Thursday’s announcement from the CDC regarding mask guidance, and Washington plans to update its own guidance to reflect that change. This new recommendation only applies to people who are fully vaccinated, which means it’s been two weeks since they received the last shot in the series.
“That shot is a ticket to freedom from masks,” Inslee said.
Individual businesses will still be allowed to require customers and employees to wear a mask if they choose to do so, and the guidance will not yet apply to long-term care facilities, hospitals, schools, or federal transportation.
“We are making tremendous progress in this pandemic thanks to Washingtonians’ collective work to save lives,” Inslee said.