by Jack Russillo
By the end of June, Washington state could see all of its restrictions lifted and be fully reopened, Governor Jay Inslee announced on Thursday.
“We have some really good news in Washington state today,” Inslee said to begin Thursday’s press conference on the COVID-19 pandemic. “Our state will be able to lift the vast majority of restrictions on our business activity on June 30th this year.”
In the meantime, all 39 counties in Washington will move to phase 3 of the state’s Roadmap to Recovery reopening plan beginning on May 18 until June 30, when Inslee anticipates the state to be completely reopened. He also said that the state could reopen even sooner, if it’s able to get 70% of its eligible population over the age of 16 to initiate their vaccinations by then. If the state’s COVID-19 data changes—such as the statewide Intensive Care Unit capacity reaching 90%—restrictions will be reinstated.
Statewide, COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths have declined over the past two weeks after surges at the end of April caused the Governor to stop any counties from reopening further. Inslee said that vaccination efforts in the state have been effective enough to warrant this change.
“We know we have a long way to go to get enough people vaccinated to save our state, but this is a huge step forward,” said Inslee. “It is a new chapter in our fight against COVID-19. It is a recognition that we are moving to a strategy that is based on vaccinations insead of restrictions and our personal behavior. We have a vaccine that is safe, that works, and is absolutely free. We are moving our full focus to that so we can save lives in our state. The reason we’re able to move to this next chapter is because we’re actually seeing a decline in cases.”
So far, more than 6 million vaccine doses have been given to people in Washington and the state has averaged more than 45,000 vaccinations per day over the past week. 57% of eligible people in the state have initiated their vaccination process as of Thursday, with 43% already being fully vaccinated.
When the entire state moves into phase 3 of the reopening plan on Tuesday, May 18, that will include all counties that were previously in phase 2. Many indoor businesses and activities, such as restaurants and gyms, will be able to operate at 50 percent capacity until June 30, when many public spaces could return to full capacity.
After Washington’s Department of Health announced more lenient restrictions for schools, the governor also said that all schools will be expected to have full-time, in-person education for all students as well as offer a remote option, beginning this fall for the 2021-22 school year. Earlier this week, the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup said that 12-to-15 year-olds were authorized to receive the Pfizer vaccine.
Inslee also announced that Washington would follow the CDC masking guidelines for fully-vaccinated people that say that they can “resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, Tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.”
The guidelines do not apply to schools, correctional facilities, or healthcare settings like hospitals or doctor’s offices. The nationwide requirement to wear facial coverings on public transportation is still active and businesses retain the right to mandate that customers wear masks.
Jack Russillo has been reporting in Western Washington since 2013. He covers the environment, social justice, and other topics that affect a sustainable and equitable future. He currently lives in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood.
Featured Image is attributed to the Province of British Columbia’s photostream under a Creative Commons 2.0 license (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
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