OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Washington is on track to fully reopen its economy by June 30, and a full reopening could happen even sooner if 70% or more of residents ages 16 and older have gotten at least one dose of vaccine by then, Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday.
And Inslee said Washington would immediately adopt new guidance offered by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which eased most indoor mask-wearing for fully vaccinated people.
Businesses will retain the right to require customers to wear masks, and masks will still be required in hospitals, schools and on public transportation, he said. Nearly 44% of people age 16 and up are fully vaccinated in Washington state.
“This is a heck of a benefit,” Inslee said. “People who have been annoyed by this mask ... that shot is a ticket to freedom from masks.”
Next Tuesday, Inslee said, the four counties that are currently in the more restrictive second phase of the state's current reopening plan will join the 35 other counties that are in Phase 3. In Phase 3, restaurants, bars and gyms can operate at 50% indoor capacity. At Phase 2, that’s reduced to 25%.
Inslee said that the state will stay at 50% capacity for most indoor activities until it moves to full capacity at the end of the June. Small cruise ships with fewer than 250 passengers can sail if the crew and 95% of the passengers are vaccinated. And weddings and funerals can have full capacity if all attendees are vaccinated.
Inslee said that his decision does not mean the state of emergency sparked by the coronavirus pandemic will end on June 30, and he said that if statewide intensive care capacity reaches 90% at at any point, he will roll back activities again.
All state residents age 16 and up have been eligible for a coronavirus vaccination since April 15. As of this week, more than 6 million doses of vaccine have been administered, with more than 57% of those age 16 and up getting at least one dose. Also as of this week, youth aged 12 to 15 are eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine.
Trends suggest 70% of those 16 and up in Washington will get at least one vaccine dose by late June, Inslee's office said.
Vaccination rates vary significantly by county, however. Ferry County has 29% of people 16 and up fully vaccinated while San Juan County is at 75%, and Inslee said local health authorities can still “act accordingly” in response to COVID-19 outbreaks.
Inslee's linking faster easing of COVID restrictions to vaccination rates is similar to what Oregon Gov. Kate Brown recently announced. This week Brown said much of her state's economy can reopen when 70% of eligible people 16 and older have received their first vaccine dose.
Inslee also said he is looking at additional incentives for people to get vaccinated, including lifting the crowd limits on the number of vaccinated attendees at indoor and outdoor sports. And starting at Thursday night’s Seattle Mariners home game, vaccinated fans are eligible for prizes.
Inslee said the state's Department of Commerce is also working with the Association of Washington Business to fund gift cards to local businesses for residents who are recently vaccinated, and the Liquor & Cannabis Board is working on a request from wineries and breweries to allow vaccinated customers to get a free drink.
Inslee's announcement comes just over a week after the last shift in the state's reopening plan — which was based on the number of new cases and hospitalizations — when he said all of the state’s counties would remain in their current phase of the state’s economic reopening plan, which angered some in the four counties that were stuck in Phase 2.
But Inslee said that the plateau in COVID-19 activity the state saw a few weeks ago has now turned into a decline, allowing for a full reopening date.
Downtown Seattle Association President and CEO Jon Scholes said in a statement Thursday that as restaurants, retailers, arts and cultural venues and other small businesses work to recover, the June 30 reopening date is welcome news.
“Now, it’s critical that we get our vaccination rate higher,” he said. “More shots in the arm will give our great Seattle businesses a shot at surviving.”
There have been more than 385,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases — plus another 32,000 “probable” cases — in Washington state, and 5,614 deaths.
For most, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks, although the long-term effects are unknown. But for some, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.