Three Washington Counties Move Backwards In COVID-19 Reopening

Washington Governor Jay Inslee today announced the rollback of three counties not meeting the Phase 3 Healthy Washington metrics for reopening activities.

The three counties returning to Phase 2 are:

• Cowlitz County

• Pierce County

• Whitman County

“These metric trends are driven by the virus and we must continue to do everything we can to sharpen our focus and keep COVID-19 activity down. We are so close to the end of the tunnel here — we have made tremendous progress and we must keep our focus,” Inslee said. “It’s like a football game; we have done 95 yards on a 99 yard-drive. We can’t let up now. These are not punitive actions; they are to save lives and protect public health.”

Last Friday, the governor announced updates to the Healthy Washington criteria:

1. In order to move down one phase, a county must fail both metrics for case counts and hospitalizations. Under the previous plan, a county only needed to fail one metric to move back a phase.

2. The spectator events guidance is updated to make clear what is allowed for counties in Phase 2 and how these events are related to school graduation ceremonies. That guidance is available here.

3. The Open Air Seating guidance is updated to allow flexibility for eating and drinking establishments. That guidance is available here.

4. The next evaluation of counties will be in three weeks, on May 3.

On Thursday, April 15, all Washingtonians (16+) will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccines. Combined with sustained mask usage, physical distancing and adhering to reopening guidance, increasing vaccination rates in all counties will hopefully help in preventing a rise in COVID-19 case numbers.

Longview Republican State Senator Jeff Wilson says the change will lead to more hardship and frustration.

“The governor just doesn’t get it,” Wilson said. “Orders from on high are meaningless without the cooperation of the public. But when the governor keeps changing the goalposts, it just doesn’t make sense to anyone.”

The governor’s new order, announced Monday afternoon, rolls Cowlitz, Pierce and Whitman counties back to Phase 2 of the state’s COVID lockdown plan. The move to Phase 2 reduces indoor capacity for restaurants, gyms and entertainment venues from 50 percent to 25 percent. All other Washington counties remain in Phase 3.

Wilson noted that the capacity restrictions will make it harder for struggling businesses to survive. High unemployment in Wilson’s 19th Legislative District already has made it a hotbed of protest against COVID lockdown orders. Defiant owners of Stuffy’s Restaurant in Longview opened their doors last December in violation of the governor’s orders, prompting state fines and public rallies in support of the restaurant.

“With the flip of a switch in Olympia, the governor has reignited public fury at a time when the COVID threat is winding down,” Wilson said. “A year ago, Washington was told we were looking at a two-week flattening of the curve, and now we seem to be in an indefinite lockdown.

“The state’s COVID restrictions may have helped prevent the spread of the disease, but they came at great cost to the people. Thousands of businesses have closed for good after months of no income, and dysfunction in the state Department of Employment Security delayed unemployment benefits to many thousands of people. While the governor talks about numbers and metrics, we have people struggling to put food on the table. He forgets that if restrictions don’t make sense to the people, they just don’t work.”

Wilson noted that Democratic majorities in the House and Senate voted earlier this year to cede the Legislature’s COVID decision-making authority to the governor for the duration. “The people have been denied their voice,” he said. “No wonder they are frustrated.”