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Rollback ahead? Inslee warns of potential for some counties to return to Phase 2 next week

by CHARLES H. FEATHERSTONE
Staff Writer | April 9, 2021 1:05 AM

OLYMPIA — As the state nears the first Monday review of Phase 3 of the COVID-19 reopening plan, Gov. Jay Inslee said rising case numbers have led to concerns that “several counties” may go back to Phase 2.

Speaking during a Thursday online press conference from the state capitol, Inslee did not name the counties, and said Monday was not “judgment day.” State health officials will review pandemic infection and hospitalization figures statewide and let the numbers dictate what happens next.

“We’re seeing increasing numbers in our state,” Inslee said, noting the rising cases are a combination of COVID-19 variants spreading in the state and people, “delighted” by spring and the arrival of Phase 3, letting down their guard.

According to the governor’s Healthy Washington: Roadmap to Recovery plan, to remain at Phase 3, counties with more than 50,000 residents must show 200 or fewer new cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents for the previous 14 days and five or fewer hospitalizations for the previous seven days.

Counties with fewer than 50,000 residents, like Adams County, must report 100 or fewer new COVID-19 cases over the previous 14 days and three or fewer hospitalizations for the previous seven days.

Any county failing to meet the goal will have to go back to Phase 2, which Inslee said won’t involve any closures, but will require businesses at 50% capacity to pull back to 25% capacity. The new case and hospitalization rates will be reviewed every three weeks under the plan.

Statewide, the rate of new cases of COVID-19 reported to the Department of Health has reached 159 per 100,000 of population during the previous 14 days.

Locally, Grant County, with 98,740 residents, reported 168 cases per 100,000 in population for the previous two weeks. Adams County, with 20,150 residents, has reported 32 COVID-19 cases in the past two weeks.

Inslee said Washington residents, and not the SARS-CoV-2 virus, are in control of the pandemic’s spread, and many of the non-pharmaceutical interventions instituted to limit the spread of the virus — like wearing face masks and maintaining social distance — can keep the numbers of new infections and hospitalizations down as people get vaccinated.

Inslee also said he is not considering a deadline to reopen the state similar to what California Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed for that state by mid-June.

“That would come with such a big if,” Inslee said. “I’m not sure how that really helps people. We want to focus on reducing the virus.”

While Inslee said 1.6 million of Washington’s 8 million residents have been vaccinated, he also said the state is not considering a vaccination passport, though private entities, such as airlines might implement such passports to meet their own needs.

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at cfeatherstone@columbiabasinherald.com.