(RICK BANNAN/Centralia Chronicle)
Counties must wait until at least July 28 to advance in reopening as state mulls potential for additional measures to stop COVID-19 spread…
Washington state counties are far less likely to move onto the next phase of “Safe Start Washington” this month as Gov. Jay Inslee announced that the pause on applications for subsequent phases is extended until at least July 28.
During a press conference July 14 Inslee made the announcement, postponing applications for almost an additional two weeks from the initial pause. The postponement was due to the continued spread of COVID-19 in the state, cases of which the governor said “have grown fairly dramatically in the past month.”
“This pandemic, this virus is growing in the state of Washington,” Inslee remarked. “That’s painful to say, but it is the reality.”
Originally announced July 2, the pause on Safe Start Washington advancement was initially intended to run until at least July 16.
As to what might result in additional measures, including an extension of the pause, Inslee said the general count of cases, the positivity rate and the rates of hospitalization — including the percentage of COVID-19 patients compared to the general hospital population — were chief factors. He noted that the positivity rate statewide rose from 4 percent to around 8 percent recently,
Inslee said that all of the factors were growing at a relatively stable rate, which he said can lead to complacency with how the pandemic is going.
“We are not seeing the explosive rise like we did in March. Instead we are seeing a steady climb,” Inslee said. He likened the steady rise in infection rates as a steady tide rather than a large wave, which still had the ability to drown at a gradual pace.
“That’s the situation we’re looking at, is an incoming tide, in my view,” Inslee remarked.
Washington State Health Officer Kathy Lofy said outbreaks were occurring statewide and in a wide variety of settings including manufacturing, food production, restaurants and childcare. She was concerned that gatherings of people were becoming more frequent, shown by increased positivity rates — a sign of increased spread regardless of the number of tests performed.
“If we continue on this path, we are going to have a tremendous amount of activity here in Washington come the end of August,” Lofy said.
Though the number of cases is climbing at an accelerated rate, the number of deaths is rising at less of an increase, which Lofy said was in part due to more infections among the younger population.
“We know they are not as vulnerable as older people,” Inslee said. “But those people are going to spread the infection.”
Inslee said there was a “concerning” growth of the number of positive cases in individuals in their 20s, who although might have better chances of avoiding serious impacts of COVID-19 were still able to carry the disease for further transmission.
“Even if someone is 25 and feels their immortal, the fact is they can go out and transmit this disease to somebody they love or some other student who has an underlying health condition,” Inslee said.
The governor also touched on the potential for rollbacks on some or all aspects of Safe Start Washington phases, referencing previous rollbacks of live entertainment and bartop service at restaurants and taverns.
“People should not be surprised if more gets rolled back depending on the course of this pandemic,” Inslee said. “That’s going to be influenced by how many people wear masks and how many people decide to socially-distance.”
Inslee said there was a “significant chance” for additional measures restricting businesses at the time the pause extension is set to expire.
Inslee said that as of the press conference nothing had changed in statewide plans for the 2020-2021 school year, which would entail the reopening of on-site instruction “to the extent that the districts believe are safe.”
“It might be only two days a week in some districts,” Inslee said about on-site instruction.
Inslee did see some success in stepping up mask-wearing rates in the state, pointing to Yakima which saw an increase from about 35 percent of individuals wearing masks three weeks ago to about 95 percent now, he said.
“It shows to me that there are people pitching in. They want to help,” Inslee said. He reaffirmed his belief that more Washingtonians wearing masks would lead to a decline in the disease’s spread.
“This is quite a remarkable thing that in a few weeks we have changed what we wear,” Inslee remarked.
Inslee didn’t feel able to make a judgment onto whether some counties opened up sooner than others, noting the economic hardship that shutting down businesses had.
“I wouldn’t be critical at this moment about those decisions,” Inslee said. “What I would say is that we have one period of time when we can affect the future, and that’s today.”
“What we do right now — this week, next week — is going to determine what this virus looks like in the fall when we’re making our best efforts to have the best educational opportunities for our kids as possible,” Inslee said.