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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Inslee focus turns to testing, masks, away from restrictions, as omicron surges

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee walks past “4 Corners,” an artwork by Carl Chew, before speaking on Dec. 13 at a news conference in Olympia.  (Ted S. Warren)

OLYMPIA – Almost two years into the COVID-19 pandemic and Washington is still in a state of emergency – though most restrictions have eased – and Gov. Jay Inslee intends to keep it that way.

In a news conference Thursday, Inslee said the state would be focusing more on using “commonsense” measures to fight the new wave of cases, including masking, vaccines and at-home testing.

The governor announced the state would distribute millions of free at-home COVID-19 tests and masks in an effort to slow the wave of omicron cases. Inslee called it “the most reasonable approach” to this variant, due to effectiveness of these tools and the decreased severity of this variant.

Although the variant is “extremely contagious,” Inslee said it is likely less risky than previous variants, especially with the addition of at-home tests, masks and most important, vaccines.

Those who are unvaccinated have had the opportunity and time to do so, Inslee said.

“If you’ve not availed yourself of that, you’ve made a decision to accept that risk,” Inslee said.

For now, large events, such as sporting events, require proof of vaccination for all attendees. Attending an indoor event with 1,000 people or more or an outdoor event with more than 10,000 people will require showing proof of vaccination.

McCarthy Athletic Center, home of the Gonzaga University Bulldogs, holds 6,000 fans and routinely is sold out for men’s basketball. Down the road in Pullman, the Washington State University Cougars play in Beasley Coliseum, a 12,000-seat arena that typically draws fewer than 3,000 fans. In Cheney, the Eastern Washington Eagles play in the 6,000-seat Reese Court, drawing roughly 1,000 fans.

Other current restrictions, including the mask mandate, are here to stay, at least through the winter.

Still, further restrictions are never off the table as Inslee has indicated in the past that he and his team are always evaluating COVID-19.

The state will continue to monitor hospital preparedness. If hospitals become too overwhelmed, things could change.

The Washington State Medical Association on Thursday sent a letter to Inslee saying the state’s hospitals were in crisis, asking him to send in the National Guard to assist with staffing shortages and change the guardianship law to allow for people to move out of hospitals quicker.

Inslee said he was looking into the feasibility of both of those things, but did not have a final decision on how to move forward, as of Friday.

Laurel Demkovich'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.