Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday announced a two-week pause to the state’s “Healthy Washington — Roadmap to Recovery” plan. That means counties will stay at their current level of COVID-19 restrictions, for now.
The pause came the day Inslee had said any changes to counties’ reopening phases would be announced. Several counties — “a dozen or so,” according to Lacy Fehrenbach, deputy director for COVID-19 response at the state Department of Health — were in danger of backsliding to or staying in Phase 2 of the three-phase plan.
Phases are determined based on statistics on new cases and hospitalizations. A lower phase comes with tighter restrictions on activities such as indoor dining and gyms.
The whole state advanced to Phase 3 of the plan on March 22. Then three counties — Pierce, Cowlitz and Whitman — were moved back to Phase 2 in April due to rising COVID-19 case counts and hospitalizations. Ferry County recently voluntarily moved back to Phase 2, after seeing a rapid increase in COVID-19 activity.
Local health officials can choose to impose new restrictions, and the state plans to re-evaluate each county in two weeks.
The governor said he made the decision to pause the plan after consulting with the state Department of Health about the current, evolving pandemic situation. A fourth wave of the coronavirus observed in recent weeks appears to be flattening in the most recent data, he said.
Hospitalizations have increased, he said, but the death rate has dramatically decreased since vaccinations began. Last week, Inslee voiced concern about a slowdown in vaccine demand. Again Tuesday he and state officials emphasized the need for more people to get vaccinated.
“There is reason to have hope that if — if — we were to continue our progress on vaccinations, that sometime in the summer we could potentially have much more normal activities in our state,” Inslee said.
The most recent available data from the state Department of Health shows over 54 percent of eligible residents have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
Asked what level of vaccination would enable a more substantial reopening, the governor said it’s so far unknown what level of vaccination combined with natural immunity will yield a level of immunity that will “successfully break the back of this pandemic.”
“If you have gotten vaccinated, your job is not done,” said state Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah. “Please help someone else get vaccinated, as well. We need to be in this together.”