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Inslee announces pause, yet to craft next phase

by By RACHEL LA CORTE, Associated Press
| February 26, 2021 1:00 AM

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday none of the state’s regions will revert back to more restrictive COVID-19 requirements under the state’s economic reopening plan, as all regions are paused in Phase 2, even though case counts are dropping. He also has not laid out any Phase 3 guidelines, as he said he wanted to see what happens in the weeks to come.

“Today I am announcing a pause on the possibility that any region would go backwards,” he said at a news conference. “And we’re making this pause in recognition of the fact that we’re making incredible progress.”

A spokesman said none of the eight regions were at risk of moving backward this week if the pause weren’t implemented.

While all 39 counties are in the second phase of the plan — which includes limited indoor dining at restaurants — the governor has yet to provide information about what subsequent phases might look like.

Inslee said to craft what future phases will look like, he would spend the next several weeks talking with businesses, health officials and others, as well as looking at the status of the virus, including variants that have been detected in the state and progress in the state’s vaccination efforts.

“We need information to be able to do that in an effective way,” he said. “We want to give people the truth, we want to give people as much predictability as we can provide them, we know how important that is to businesses and everyone else. But it would not serve their purpose to give them a plan that later didn’t come to pass.”

Last month, Inslee announced regions had to meet three of four metrics to advance and to stay in Phase 2: a 10% decreasing trend in case rates over a two-week period; a 10% decrease in coronavirus hospital admission rates in that same timeframe; an ICU occupancy rate less than 90%; and a test positivity rate of less than 10%.

The most updated information from the Department of Health shows half of the regions meet all four, and the other half meet three.

In the second phase, restaurants can offer indoor dining at 25% capacity, and indoor fitness centers can open with the same limit. Sports competitions can resume with limited spectators, and wedding and funeral ceremonies can increase their number of guests.

Kris Johnson, president of the Association of Washington Business, said he was disappointed the governor did not announce additional guidance on later phases.

“Unfortunately, it appears we have reached a stop sign on the road to recovery,” he said in a statement. “Washington employers need to see the roadmap for how we reopen the state’s economy and begin to rebuild.”

The U.S. has recorded more than 28.3 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and over 506,000 deaths. There have been more than 318,000 cases in Washington state, and 4,912 deaths.

For most, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough Long-term effects are unknown. For some, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.