Inslee announces host of eased COVID-19 restrictions, urges use of masks

(RICK BANNAN/Centralia Chronicle)

Jay Inslee takes a tour of a potential COVID-19 quarantine and isolation site at Maple Lane in March. (Jared Wenzelburger / jwenzelburger@chronline.com)

Recreational sports, later last call at bars and restaurants among changes…

There’s good news for a number of businesses and recreational activities as Gov. Jay Inslee announced new guidance for the easing of some restrictions put in place in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

During a press conference Oct. 6, Inslee announced the new guidance affecting a number of shuttered or restricted activities and businesses, some put on hold since the first restrictions were put in place in March. Chief among the new guidance is the ability for the resuming of youth sports, both indoor and outdoor, though with additional requirements for health safety and many sports still prohibited from full operation until individual counties show reduced COVID-19 spread.




Recent COVID-19 activity will determine what types of activities are allowed for certain sports, which the guidance broke down into their own low, medium and high-risk categories. Sports such as tennis, swimming, golf, cross country and track and field could see league play in counties with high disease activity of 75 or more cases per 100,000 population in the past 14 days, while sports like football, basketball, wrestling and martial arts could not return to league play until a county reached the low-risk threshold, 25 or fewer new cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 population in the past 14 days.

“This is a really good day for our young people to get back in these really healthy activities,” Inslee said.

He said the easing of restrictions was possible through working with school and nonprofit athletic officials.

Inslee said his office has been told that the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) has plans for a football season next year, adding one of the challenges districts face in getting to that point is having adequate protocols, and the funding needed to put them in place.

“The schools just cannot do that, to do what the Seahawks are doing,” Inslee said.

Inslee’s Director of External Affairs Nick Streuli said that spectators would still be prohibited from college and professional sports, as would be the case in youth sports in most instances.

New guidance also included movie theaters, libraries, wedding receptions, real estate open houses and more outdoor recreation including canoe and kayak races, bicycle tours and running competitions. All of the new guidance includes health safety precautions and levels of restriction based on the current phase of “Safe Start Washington” each county is currently in.

Inslee said that restaurant and bar alcohol sales cutoff is increased from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. for counties in the second Safe Start phase and further, as well as an increase in table sizes and removal of the household-members-only restriction for indoor dining in those phases.

Inslee said the easing of restrictions was in recognition to the progress Washington state has made in handling the pandemic. Though the new guidance lessens restrictions in many cases based on current reopening phases, the pause on counties being able to apply to move into further phases remains, after first being put in place in early July.

“I think increasingly the way we need to think about this is not just so much as prohibitions about what you can’t do, but adaptations to show how to do something safely,” Inslee said.

He said that both reducing social interactions and the use of masks are effective tools in stopping the spread of COVID-19, adding that by using masks more it will allow for less of a reliance on social prohibitions.

Given that some parts of the state continue to see increases in COVID-19 activity while the easing of restrictions were announced, Inslee expressed hope that one-time events such as the Labor Day weekend and wildfires causing residents to stay indoors played a role.

Mask usage was another focus of the press conference, as Inslee brought on Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center infectious disease modeler Joshua Schiffer to discuss recent research into their effectiveness.

Schiffer said that “amazingly” Washington state has kept the reproductive rate of the virus around one, meaning on average there was an additional transmission for every infection. He said there was a fine line between a slight increase leading to potentially exponential growth of the virus, and moving closer to a reproductive number of .6 where reopening of schools could be seriously considered.

Schiffer presented data correlating increased mask usage, such as was the case in Japan and some African countries compared to the U.S., with a lower reproductive rate. He noted that the virus “peaks” at its highest level of transmission usually before someone infected shows symptoms

Acknowledging that masks are not perfect, Schiffer said that modeling “very strongly suggests” transmissions of COVID-19 among two individuals wearing a mask reduced the amount of virus infecting previously uninfected individuals, potentially lessening the severity of the subsequent disease symptoms.

“The masks are likely to benefit people even if they do get infected,” Schiffer said, adding that ending up with an infection didn’t necessarily mean that the masks “didn’t work.” He added mask usage could be a mitigating factor in so-called “super-spreading” events with mass transmission of COVID-19.

Inslee framed the urging of mask usage with the recent positive COVID-19 tests of White House officials including President Donald Trump, who he said had downplayed the effectiveness and necessity of their usage.

“Wearing a mask is not a sign of weakness. It is fundamentally a sign of strength,” Inslee said. “It means you care about your family. You care about your colleagues. You care about your neighbors, and you have the strength to demonstrate that.”

New Guidance Released Oct. 6

A full list of guidelines announced by Gov. Jay Inslee during the Oct. 6 press conference are available at governor.wa.gov/news-media/inslee-announces-updates-safe-start-reopening-plan