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Groups ask Inslee not to roll counties back to Phase 2

by CHARLES H. FEATHERSTONE
Staff Writer | April 10, 2021 2:33 PM

OLYMPIA — A large collection of groups and associations representing businesses across Washington state are asking Gov. Jay Inslee to delay any rollback to Phase 2 when the first evaluation of state COVID-19 data under the recovery plan takes place Monday.

“Our focus should be on vaccinations, how do we all do our part to get as many vaccinated as quickly as we can so we can start returning to normal,” said Anthony Anton, president of the Washington Hospitality Association, the group which authored the letter.

The letter was signed locally by the Moses Lake Chamber of Commerce and Quincy Valley Chamber of Commerce and by dozens of organizations around the state.

The letter asks the governor for “a three-week pause on any decision to roll counties back to Phase 2” because the decision would punish businesses for behavior they don’t control and it would do little to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Under Inslee’s Healthy Washington COVID-19 recovery plan, the entire state was advanced to Phase 3 in mid-March, allowing businesses, such as restaurants, to operate at 50% capacity.

Counties that fail to maintain the new-case count of fewer than 200 new COVID-19 cases for 100,000 people for the prior 14 days are expected to be rolled back to Phase 2 after Monday’s review of the COVID-19 data. In Phase 2, restaurants and similar businesses can only operate at 25% capacity.

Anton said 50% is actually a safer capacity to operate than 25%, since 25% does not deter people from gathering in unsafe ways, while 50% gives people enough space to gather under “strong protocols” and “with safe outlets to socialize.”

The focus of all Washington residents at this point should be to get everyone vaccinated who is eligible — which will be all state residents 16 and older as of Tuesday, April 15 — and that will do more than a phase rollback to control the spread of COVID-19, Anton said.

“Whether it is through volunteering, whether it’s through helping a neighbor, whether it’s through dispelling myths, that’s the focus we need to have right now to take the biggest chunk out of this disease,” he said.

Anton said the Washington Hospitality Association had 6,500 members prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, but will have to see how many are left once the pandemic is over. He is hopeful, however, with the arrival of spring, the start of Phase 3 statewide and the availability of vaccines, that things may finally be looking up.

“The closures through December, and even at 25% capacity, it’s been really tough,” he said. “It was a really tough winter.”