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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