OLYMPIA – Some aspects of Washington’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order will continue through May – and possibly into July – as state officials slowly relax restrictions on businesses and gatherings.
Gov. Jay Inslee announced a phased approach that will slowly let different businesses reopen and activities restart, often with new restrictions on capacity or crowd size to thwart the spread of COVID-19. It will also give 10 small, rural counties the opportunity to move through the phases faster and open up businesses sooner.
The state would not completely return to the way things were before the pandemic until there are ways to treat it or a vaccine is available, Inslee said.
“No one knows when we are going to get there,” he said.
By mid-May, Inslee said, he expects the state will have protocols to allow retail shops to offer curbside pickup, along with auto sales and car washes – all with some restrictions. The state also will allow “drive-in spiritual services” with one household per vehicle.
At some point after that, probably at least three weeks and after data indicates the spread of COVID-19 remains under control, the state would allow more outdoor recreational activity, including camping. Small gatherings of five people or fewer could resume, along with new construction and in-store retail purchases. Barber shops and salons could reopen, and restaurants could reopen with 50% capacity and no tables seating more than five.
Some professional offices could reopen, although teleworking still would be encouraged.
After yet another period of three weeks or more and again depending on data health officials will be studying, the third phase would allow gatherings of as many as 50 people, some sports activities and a resumption of nonessential travel, with restaurants allowing up to 75% capacity and bars at 25% capacity. Libraries and museums could open. Gyms and movie theaters could open to 50% capacity.
Even through this third phase, people in high-risk groups, such as those over 65 or with serious health conditions or compromised immune systems, would be asked to continue to stay home and avoid contact with people outside their household.
The fourth phase, which might not happen for another three weeks or more following the third phase, would allow for the resumption of all recreational activity, nonessential travel, gatherings of more than 50 people and large events such as concerts and sporting events. The stay-home order would be lifted even for people in high-risk groups, although they would be encouraged to practice social distancing.
The stay-home order officially was extended through May 31, but Inslee cautioned against making reservations for June 1. Each phase will take at least three weeks, and possibly longer, which would mean the resumption of all activities – still with some precautions for social distancing – can’t happen until sometime in July.
Washington, which had more than 14,600 cases of COVID-19 and 824 deaths as of Friday, was among the first states to tell residents to limit time outside their homes and to restrict jobs and businesses deemed nonessential to fighting the pandemic or sustaining the community. It has taken a slower approach to reopening its economy than many other states.
In the hours before Inslee announced his phased approach, demonstrators at the Capitol and in Spokane were calling for the state to open more businesses sooner.
Inslee discounted any suggestion that large numbers of state residents would defy the restrictions.
“The vast majority of Washingtonians don’t want to see their relatives die of the COVID virus,” he said during the news conference after the announcement. “I just do not want to bet on failure here.”
Ten small counties, including Columbia, Garfield, Ferry, Lincoln and Pend Oreille counties in Eastern Washington, would be allowed to move to Phase 2 quicker if their health officer and county commissioners request it. All have extremely low rates of infection.
Other counties could request permission to move more quickly to Phase 2 than the state as a whole if it’s warranted by their health data and other factors the state analyzes. Counties that want to open slower could make that decision locally.
Senate Minority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, called the long duration of the four-phase approach “a disappointment” and predicted it will cause many businesses “to remain on a path that could easily end in their failure.” It will also mean deeper cuts to the state budget because of the loss of tax revenue, he predicted.
Last week, the state allowed commercial and residential construction projects to resume with new safety guidelines designed to lessen the chance of COVID-19 spreading among workers.
On Wednesday, Inslee announced that restrictions on fishing, hunting, golf and some other outdoor recreation activities would be reduced on May 5, also with new rules to prevent the spread of the virus. Restrictions on elective surgery and some other medical and dental procedures also have been relaxed.
Inslee said Friday there is “a very good chance” schools will open in the fall, particularly if the phased approach to reopening business is as successful as health officials believe in stopping the spread of COVID-19.
“We are being, I think, strategic about this by looking at all of that underlying data,” he said. “Those health care officials are right and so are the business people who really want to get back in the saddle and open up their businesses.
“Those folks want to have a success. And I think the success here is to only go through this once.”
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