During a press conference on Thursday, July 23, Governor Jay Inslee and Secretary of Health John Wiesman announced changes to the Safe Start Plan that has been guiding Washingtonians for the last four months. The reason is the increase in coronavirus cases, which is over 50,000 and the death count, which is over 1,500.
The changes are in addition to the statewide mask mandate, which Inslee acknowledges that residents are doing a good job masking and that in Yakima County it has slowed the infection rate. The problem right now is that Washington is near the edge of a cliff and if it tips over, the pandemic will begin to look like Florida.
"These actions we're taking today are certainly not an attempt to punish businesses," Inslee said. "In fact we've had enormous responsible actions taken by our business leadership. We do know this, at the moment the only effective tool against this pandemic is to change some of our practices and we need to do that. Unfortunately we know this, the rate of transmission has been increasing around the state. Our suppression of this virus is not at the level it needs to be at to allow us to continue more activity. If we let the virus get even more control, it will have even more devastating impact over the long term in our economy, and certainly in our health and the very lives of our loved ones. This situation has been described by some of our experts as being sort of where Florida was several weeks ago, and as we know Florida now has many hospitals with no more ICU capacity. We are in a position that possibly could result in a Florida like condition if we do not act. So here's what we're going to do. We're going to take actions to reduce physical interactions in some of our businesses with the hope that in combination with our mask initiative we can get this pandemic under control."
Wiesman announced that he was ordering an expansion of his face covering order that went into effect Saturday, July 25. He included a requirement for face coverings in all common spaces, such as elevators, hallways, and shared spaces in public locations like hotels and nursing homes. Basically wear a mask anywhere someone might have coughed and spread the coronavirus.
Weddings and funerals
Weddings and funerals are still permitted, but receptions where people are mingling are prohibited for now. Ceremonies are limited to 20% occupancy or up to 30 people, whichever is less, and only if social distancing can be observed. This change takes effect on August 6.
Restaurants can only seat dine-in guests at the same table as their households. The occupancy for dine-in has been reduced to 50% in Phase 3. Outdoor dining and take-away remains the same. Social areas like gaming areas, pool tables, dart boards, and video games must be closed.
Bars will be closed to indoor service, but outdoor service can continue.
These regulations take effect on July 30.
Fitness centers in Phase 3 are reduced to 25% occupancy. Fitness classes are limited to no more than 10 participants. This does not include the instructors. Again the start date is July 30.
Places that offer indoor entertainment like bowling alleys and arcades are prohibited from opening. Indoor movie theaters occupancy in Phase 3 counties is reduced to 25%.
"We're losing the momentum we had during the early months of this response," Wiesman said. "Looking ahead to the fall and hopes of schools reopening, we must dig back in to regain control. Fewer, shorter, and safer interactions are crucial. Staying home is still safest but if you go out, keep it quick, keep your distance from others, and wear your face covering."
"Parents [need] to talk to their teenage kids about this and be a little insistent," said Inslee. "I'm given the governor's privilege to give an order directly to your teenage kids and maybe even your twenty-five year old, because even if they [feel] immortal and they're not, an increasing number of our hospitalizations are people of that age group and that's gone from 22% of our infections to 45%. They are not immortal from this disease."
"More importantly, if you're 25 and you've been invited to go out to a friend's house where you know there's going to be 20 of your buddies there and you're going to hang for a few hours," continued Inslee. "I get that there's probably nothing more fun in life to do that, but there's probably nothing more dangerous right now. If more young people will accept this sort of responsibility [not to go out], fewer of their parents will die because they won't get infected and they won't go home and infect their dad and they won't infect their grandmother. That's what this is about. All I can do is ask at this point. Technically it is a crime. It is a misdemeanor to have those kinds of illicit gatherings, but it's worse than that. You can kill somebody you love."
"I'm speaking in stark terms, because that's the stark reality," he said. "If we're going to get on top of this thing we've got to have a lot more people committed to having fewer social interactions."
"I know we are all tired of how long this emergency has gone on, and the pain it has inflicted in our households and our communities," Inslee said. "But we all remain steadfast in our refusal to allow COVID-19 to overwhelm our society, and we will lean on each other to get the job done. This is not the easy thing to do, but it is the right thing to do. These prohibitions are part of our approach, but they only supplement what we really need, which is for individuals to continue to make safe decisions and adhere to healthy practices."
As Washington monitors the infection rate expect more changes as Inslee adapts his Safe Start Plan.