Shutdown continues: Inslee outlines slow plan to reopen state

by CHARLES H. FEATHERSTONE
Staff Writer | May 1, 2020 4:19 PM

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee outlined a four-phase plan Friday afternoon that will slowly reopen the state over the next several months, but much of the governor’s initial stay-at-home closure order will remain in place until at least May 31.

“We will continue to monitor and assess the data,” Inslee said during a press conference Friday. “The new normal is not here yet.”

Inslee outlined his four-phase process by which businesses will be allowed to reopen and public gatherings — including restaurants and salons — will be allowed to resume. However, each phase will require steady and measurable decreases in the spread of the COVID-19 virus, as well as a fall in deaths, increase in testing capacity, and improvements in hospital readiness, Inslee said.

Currently, Inslee said the state is in Phase 1, which bans all public gatherings and limits business activity to only “essential businesses.” However, Inslee also said auto dealers and car washes will now be allowed to open.

Inslee added that social distancing measures would still need to be observed during each phase — even the final phase, when the stay-at-home order would be lifted.

“We’re looking at all of these and making a judgment on whether to move to the next phase,” he said. “There will be three weeks between phases as a minimum, and there may be more given the nature of the disease.”

In Phase 2, restaurants would be allowed to reopen at 50 percent capacity, small public gatherings of five people would be allowed, new construction could start, hair salons and barbershops would be allowed to reopen, in-store retail purchases would resume and real estate transactions could resume.

Inslee said a number of the industry and business protocols needed to effectively move to Phase 2 should be in place by May 15.

In Phase 3, Inslee said outdoor gatherings of 50 people would be allowed, restaurants could expand to 75 percent of capacity, bars could reopen at 25 percent capacity, gyms and movie theaters can reopen at 50 percent capacity, libraries and museums and “all other activities” except nightclubs could resume so long as 50 or fewer people are present.

In Phase 4, his stay-at-home order is lifted, and large sporting events, concerts, nightclubs and any gathering of more than 50 people will be allowed.

However, at the pace the governor has set, it would be mid-July at the earliest before something resembling life before the pandemic returns.

“The return to normal will still not look the same until a pharmaceutical intervention such as a vaccine (appears), and I don’t know when that will happen,” Inslee said.

The goal in all of this, Inslee said, is to ensure the disease does not return and compel him to order a second round of closures. Success in combating the COVID-19 outbreak means only having to close the state down once, Inslee said.

The governor said that the 10 least affected counties in the state — a list that includes Lincoln and Kittitas counties but does not include either Grant or Adams counties — can apply for “variances” that will allow them to leapfrog the process so long as they show they retain enough capacity to deal with COVID-19 cases.

Inslee also said that in his 69 years, he’s never seen the state so united, and that he doesn’t not foresee any need to resort to “legal action” to force Washingtonians to comply with stay-at-home and closure orders.

“I feel good about the course we are on,” he said.

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