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Governor loosens some COVID-19 restrictions, emphasizes mask use

UPDATED: Tue., Oct. 6, 2020

This photo from June shows Gov. Jay Inslee in Spokane. The governor on Tuesday loosened some COVID-19 restrictions statewide.  (Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review)
This photo from June shows Gov. Jay Inslee in Spokane. The governor on Tuesday loosened some COVID-19 restrictions statewide. (Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review)

Gov. Jay Inslee loosened some COVID-19 restrictions on movie theaters, libraries, youth sports and restaurants on Tuesday.

Instead of moving phases through counties, the governor simply adjusted requirements in certain sectors, depending on a county’s phase.

“We’ve found a way to do these things safely with minimal risk, and we’ve made these custom-made protocols,” Inslee told reporters on Tuesday.

Under the revised guidelines, restaurants can now serve alcohol until 11 p.m.

For Phase 2 counties, like Spokane, restaurant table size has been increased to six people, and the household-members-only restriction has been lifted.

Inslee said many restaurants were not following the households-only rule anyway and noted that it did not appear to decrease transmission of the virus.

Movie theaters and libraries are allowed to reopen in Phase 2 counties at 25% occupancy, with masking and distancing requirements in place.

Real estate agents are allowed to host open house events within the gathering limits of a county’s phase. Wedding receptions are now allowed up to 50 people in Phase 3 counties.

The governor’s office assigned certain youth sports risk categories, standardizing when and how each sport can resume. Sports like football, wrestling and basketball are considered high-risk. Tennis, golf, and swimming, as well as cross country and track and field, are considered low-risk.

The amount of contact and which sports are allowed to compete against other teams is largely reliant on the county’s incidence rate. Spokane County still has a high incidence rate, well over 75 cases per 100,000 residents. Spokane County currently has an incidence rate of 191 cases per 100,000 residents.

In a county with high COVID activity, team practices and trainings for all youth sports can resume as long as players are limited to groups of six in separate parts of the field or courts.

Scrimmage and intra-team competitions are allowed for low-risk sports but are discouraged if schools are not having learning inperson. Other games, scrimmages and competitions can resume for medium- and high-risk sports once a county has a lower incidence rate.

Despite a recent increase in cases statewide resulting from Labor Day, the smoke and some college students returning, the governor defended the decision to open up more businesses, noting that he hopes those instances were one-time events. He also asked more Washington residents to wear face coverings both in public and at home, if they are having others over or interacting with anyone indoors.” As the weather changes and we go back indoors and resume our indoor activities, we really have to increase our commitment to masks,” Inslee said. State Secretary of Health Dr. John Wiesman said they would continue to pay close attention to the state’s virus numbers, especially as these changes take effect. He noted that the number of people with COVID-like illness going to emergency rooms is not increasing. Dr. Josh Schiffer, a physician and researcher at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, said that while masks are not perfect, if a person with COVID-19 and a person who could be infected both wear them, the viral load transmitted will be much less , which could result in a less severe infection.” The point is, just by boosting the mask use a little bit, it makes everybody so much safer,” Schiffer told reporters Tuesday. “So I think really this should be our goal.”

Inslee acknowledged that opening up more settings could lead to an increase in cases, but he encouraged Washington residents to continue to increase their mask usage.

“We believe if we increase our use of masks, that will allow us to make these shifts that allow more social interactions,” Inslee said.

The new guidance will be effective immediately, and the governor’s office released the guidance Tuesday evening.

Meanwhile, here’s a look at the latest local numbers:

• The Spokane Regional Health District confirmed 70 more cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, and two more residents died from the virus. There are 36 patients hospitalized in Spokane hospitals, and 29 of them are county residents.

• The Panhandle Health District confirmed 44 cases on Tuesday, and two more residents have died from the virus there. There have been 62 deaths due to COVID-19 in the five-county region. There are 21 residents hospitalized with the virus.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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