An end to restrictions put in place to combat the COVID-19 pandemic is in sight as Gov. Jay Inslee announced a change in statewide policy Thursday, May 13.
During a press conference, Inslee said the “vast majority of restrictions on our business activity” would be lifted by June 30, adding it included “restaurants and gyms and the like.” He said there’s a possibility that the full reopening could happen sooner if the state is able to hit the 70-percent threshold of individuals with at least one dose of vaccination.
“This is a huge step forward. It is a new chapter in our fight against COVID,” Inslee said.
The state is moving toward a strategy focused on vaccinations, as opposed to restricting behaviors, he explained.
“We have a vaccine that is safe, that works, that is absolutely free and we are now moving to a full focus on that so we can save lives in our state,” Inslee said.
The decision behind the announcement came from an apparent plateau and decline in cases in the state. Inslee said the current rates of COVID-19 deaths are “some of the lowest that we have experienced.”
With the announcement, every county in the state will be able to move to Phase 3 on Tuesday as long as their local health board allows it.
More than 57 percent of Washingtonians have received their first dose of vaccine and more than 43 percent are fully vaccinated, according to Inslee.
The state administered its sixth-millionth COVID-19 vaccine, Inslee noted, adding the state administers about 46,000 doses a day.
Recently, Inslee paused the usual evaluation of counties that determined whether they would move up or down a phase in the “Roadmap to Recovery” plan. The governor said the pause was consistent with the state’s strategy against COVID-19.
“We believe that this decision makes sense, eminently based on the evidence before us,” Inslee said.
The governor noted the state of emergency would not end on June 30 when restrictions are set to be lifted.
“The virus is not done with us,” Inslee said.
He noted if the state’s intensive care unit (ICU) capacity reaches 90 percent, rollbacks would take place.
“But if we remain on this course of getting vaccines, we don’t believe that’s going to happen,” Inslee said.
The state is adopting federal guidance on masking requirements, according to Inslee, which recently relaxed when it came to fully vaccinated individuals.
Inslee said the relaxation of mandates would not pertain to hospitals, long-term care facilities, doctor’s offices, correctional facilities, homeless shelters or schools. The governor also mentioned the federal approval of vaccines for 12- to 15-year-olds.
He said K-12 schools would be open for full in-person learning in the fall, with remote learning options.
“This does not change our responsibilities, it just increases our possibilities,” Inslee said.