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  • Writer's pictureAP NEWS

VIDEO: Gov. Inslee pausing all county re-opening phases for 2 weeks. Grant Co. staying in Phase 3

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday said all of the state’s counties will remain in their current phase of the state’s economic reopening plan and won’t face more restrictions because new COVID cases are leveling off after a recent spike. Inslee said there will be a two-week pause as the state continues to evaluate coronavirus activity in the state.

The surprise announcement came as several more counties were expected to roll back to Phase 2 of the plan, which includes reduced capacity for indoor dining and gyms, based on case counts and hospitalizations. But Inslee said that the most recent weekend data from the Department of Health shows coronavirus activity reaching a plateau in the state.

“The approach to this pandemic, there’s no real playbook for COVID,” Inslee said. “We are making very difficult decisions based on the best science we have.”

Inslee’s move is at odds with neighboring Oregon, where fellow Democratic Gov. Kate Brown last week imposed more severe restrictions because of a new coronavirus wave. Washington and Oregon were among the first states to implement sweeping restrictions in the early days of the pandemic.

Currently, in Washington, just four of the state’s 39 counties are in the more restrictive Phase 2: Cowlitz, Pierce, and Whitman, which were rolled back from Phase 3 last month, and Ferry County, where health officials on Friday voluntarily moved back because of a recent outbreak.

In Phase 3 restaurants, bars and gyms can operate at 50% capacity. At Phase 2, that’s reduced to 25%.

Under the current metrics, larger counties must have less than 200 new cases per 100,000 people over a two-week period and fewer than five new COVID hospitalizations per 100,000 people over a one-week period in order to be in Phase 3.

Seventeen smaller counties — Klickitat, Asotin, Pacific, Adams, San Juan, Pend Oreille, Skamania, Lincoln, Ferry, Wahkiakum, Columbia, Kittitas, Stevens, Douglas, Okanogan, Jefferson, and Garfield — must have fewer than 100 new cases over a two-week period and fewer than 3 new COVID hospitalizations over a one-week period in order to avoid going to Phase 2. Phase 1 is the most restrictive, including no indoor dining at restaurants allowed.

There have been more than 377,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases — plus another 30,000 “probable” cases — in Washington state, and 5,507 deaths.

For most, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks, although long-term effects are unknown. But for some, it can cause more severe illnesses, including pneumonia and death.

Inslee’s announcement on the two-week pause comes a day after he released new guidance for spectator events that allows more people at indoor and outdoor events and indoor religious services if there are designated COVID-19 vaccination sections.

All state residents over age 16 have been eligible for a coronavirus vaccination since April 15. As of this week, more than 5.5 million doses of vaccine have been administered, with more than 54% of those eligible getting at least one dose. Nearly 39% of those eligible in the state are fully vaccinated.

Health officials encouraged the public to pick up the pace of vaccination, saying that the higher the vaccination rate, the quicker the state can return to normal.

“We know vaccines are our pathway out of this pandemic,” said Dr. Umair Shah, secretary of the state Department of Health.

In Oregon, restaurants in 15 counties were required to close their indoor dining Friday, and capacity was significantly reduced in gyms and indoor entertainment spaces. The restrictions have been criticized by business owners and Republican lawmakers.

In the past month, COVID-19 hospitalizations in Oregon have more than doubled, with 351 people hospitalized with the virus at the start of the week.

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