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With signs of a ‘plateau,’ Washington pauses COVID-19 reopening rollbacks meaning Seattle can stay in Phase 3 — for now

Faced with the prospect of his largest county sliding back, ongoing concerns about economic impacts, and with the prospect that the current wave of COVID-19 spread may be plateauing, Gov. Jay Inslee Tuesday announced a two-week pause in the state’s phased system of reopening.

The state process was set for its regular evaluation Tuesday that would have recorded King County as being well over the thresholds for its current Phase 3 status.

“The decision was made in consultation with the Department of Health, and reflects current data suggesting Washington’s fourth wave has hit a plateau,” the announcement from Inslee’s Olympia office reads.

“We are at the intersection of progress and failure, and we cannot veer from the path of progress,” Inslee said in the announcement. “Our economy is beginning to show early signs of growth thanks to some of our great legislative victories and we know vaccines are the ticket to further reopening — if we adhere to public health until enough people are vaccinated.”

“We appreciate that the governor announced a pause on further rollbacks, which recognizes the sacrifices we have all made to keep each other safe,” Anthony Anton, president and CEO of the Washington Hospitality Association, said in a statement. “Rolling back counties would have been the wrong decision, given the progress in vaccinations, the drop in the length of hospital stays, the incredible damage that shutting down the economy has on families and small businesses, and that previous rollbacks have not worked.”

Anton said his group was eager “to move beyond rollback-only approach.”

In Seattle and King County, new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths continued to climb as officials eyed this week’s assessment to determine if the county must roll back its reopening phase and put more strict social distancing and business requirements back in place.

On a day to day basis on Capitol Hill, the decision is most impactful for restaurants that will now be allowed to continue serving in-person customers at 50% capacity.

State officials are also making plans to allow events, venues, and businesses including cruises, sporting events, performances, and school graduations to expand capacities later this month by requiring proof of vaccination, a measure that has been put in place successfully in other states.

To stay in Phase 3, King County would have needed to maintain at least one of two key metrics — the 14-day average of new COVID cases at or below 200 per 100,000 residents, or a seven-day average of new hospitalizations per 100,000 at five or fewer. Its rates in both measures climbed above allowable thresholds last week and currently sit at 242 new positive cases per 100,000 people and 6.5 new hospitalizations per 100,000 per day.

In the announcement officials say there are signs the state’s fourth COVID-19 wave” appears to be leveling out.”

“The fourth wave has been less severe and case counts and mortalities have not been tied in rates of increase as they have in the past,” the announcement reads.

State officials say the changes can be attributed to increasing vaccination rates that are “shortening hospital stays and lessening the severity of the illness.”

“The state’s early vaccine prioritization has also been tied to improved data and decreasing mortality rates in the state’s most vulnerable populations,” the Inslee announcement reads.

CHS reported here last week on Seattle reaching 40% of adults vaccinated and the sudden widespread availability of appointments thanks to increased federal supply.

Inslee and state officials have now given themselves two weeks for things to, hopefully, improve before taking any painful economic — and political — hits of rolling back.


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Hillery
Hillery
2 days ago

Money talks

Bob
Bob
2 days ago

I think we should stuff shut down again with nearly half the county fully vaccinated (eye roll)

Zach
Zach
2 days ago
Reply to  Bob

Fact check: as of today, 32% of the U.S. is fully vaccinated which in no stretch of imagination can be called “nearly half”. https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#vaccinations.

Zach
Zach
2 days ago
Reply to  Bob

Adding, I get you said “county”, but King County does not exist in isolation within the U.S. And the U.S. does not exist in isolation in the world. It’s to our benefit that vaccination rates go up globally. Map lines aren’t protection. King County isn’t a bubble, even if the governor makes independent phase decisions. Reopening too soon will cause more illness and death.

Anoninseattle
Anoninseattle
2 days ago
Reply to  Zach

Well we aren’t reopening we’re just in a holding pattern. Our cases are starting to come down as things are, both locally and nationally, so no reason to add MORE restrictions given this trend. If things change in the next two weeks, we can close things down more.

Steve
Steve
1 day ago
Reply to  Anoninseattle

I agree with Inslee’s decision here, but it’s important to get the details right: our cases haven’t started coming down; they’ve simply stopped increasing, and are now at a plateau of roughly 375 new cases a day. The effects of re-opening and vaccinating are now cancelling out.

The reason I agree with the decision — even though a phased rollback would obviously bring cases down faster in combination with rising vaccination — is mostly political. Too many people think the situation is rosier than it is, and would rebel. And public support and confidence are everything here.

Hopefully the increasing vaccination plus the stable re-opening policy will still bring cases down, just more slowly than if a rollback happened and people accepted it. Some number of additional King County residents will die as a result (my guess is 5-10). Is it worth it? That’s a hard calculus to make, but I have great respect for the person who has to actually make it each week, not just debate it in comments sections of websites.

CD Neighbor
CD Neighbor
1 day ago
Reply to  Steve

I’m an odd duck, I’m a very socially conscious cynic….. as long as it was not through choice that people were unprotected from this disease I was willing to go along with all of the restrictions – indeed I’ve been more strict with myself than was even mandated, because working in a medical environment I had a greater risk of exposure and potential to be a spreader. But we’re fast reaching the point where most people have the opportunity to choose to protect themselves, so it will no longer be my responsibility if they *choose* not to….I’ve been vaccinated and I continue to mask and distance for the time being, because we’re not quite there yet, but I don’t expect to restrict myself indefinitely…..

Steve
Steve
1 day ago
Reply to  Anoninseattle

Edit: our cases haven’t started coming down *locally* (i.e. in King County)

Anoninseattle
Anoninseattle
1 day ago
Reply to  Steve

Eh – I’m making speaking too soon as data is still coming in for the last few days, but it actually does seem that we’re starting to decline.

Anoninseattle
Anoninseattle
1 day ago
Reply to  Anoninseattle

To that point as of this morning, the seven day running average is 322, and yes we cannot consider this data complete but quite a bit will need to be missing for us to close out this last week back with a running average of 375.

We’re even less likely to turn in the other direction, based on current trends.

I agree it’s probably good to pause where we’re at the next couple of weeks but my hunch is we are starting to see a turnaround and it would’ve been silly to have layered on more restrictions this week.

At worst things are holding, likely they are starting to get better.

Steve
Steve
1 day ago
Reply to  Anoninseattle

I think you’re over-interpreting the recent, incomplete data, which I tend to count for very little, since they typically get filled in a bit. But I guess we’ll know for sure in a few days.

Anoninseattle
Anoninseattle
1 day ago
Reply to  Steve

Hmm I don’t know. I’ve found that yes it can filled in more – that’s a much bigger gap to fill than when the data has ended up ultimately showing a rise or a plateau.

And sometimes things get removed as duplicate case counts are resolved.

If you look at Seattle specifically it does seem that case counts already started to drop outside that margin was of error. Certainly going to be higher vaxs rates there than say, South King, but that is 40% or so of the county.

Things are certainly not getting worse – so there are actual data grounded reasons to hold off on more restrictions than just “it’s political”.

Deborah Masters
Deborah Masters
14 hours ago
Reply to  Anoninseattle

PEOPLE GET THE SHOT, it may save someone’s life.