Gov. Jay Inslee Thursday announced that the state is moving toward a statewide June 30 reopening date and that all counties in Washington will move to Phase 3 of the Healthy WA: Roadmap to Recovery reopening plan effective May 18 until June 30.
The announcement comes after the governor paused phase movement for two weeks to review an emerging flattening trend in statewide COVID-19 data. As of Thursday, the plateau observed in COVID-19 activity has become a decline.
“What we know now gives us the confidence to close this chapter in this pandemic and begin another,” Inslee said at a press conference Thursday. “This next part of our fight to save lives in Washington will focus on increasing vaccination rates and continuing to monitor variants of concern as we move toward reopening our state.”
The full reopening could happen earlier than June 30 if 70% or more of Washingtonians over the age of 16 initiate vaccination. Washington has administered over six million doses of vaccine, and 56 percent of Washingtonians have initiated vaccination.
In the short-term, effective Tuesday, May 18, every county in the state will be in Phase 3 of Healthy Washington, including counties currently in Phase 2. Most indoor activities will be permitted to operate at 50% capacity until June 30 when most public spaces will return to full capacity.
The governor’s office said that Thursday’s announcement does not mean that Washington’s state of emergency will lift on June 30. It also does not guarantee a full reopening if the state’s COVID-19 data changes. If the statewide ICU capacity reaches 90% at any point, activities will be rolled back again.
Inslee announced that Washington will fully adopt masking guidance issued earlier Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.The CDC said it is no longer recommending masks indoors or outdoors, including in crowds, for fully vaccinated people, defined asthose who are two weeks removed from their second shot of Pfizer or Moderna or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
The state will update its guidance documents — working with the Department of Health and Labor & Industries — to reflect this as soon as possible. Businesses retain the right to require customers wear masks.
The guidance does not apply to health care settings like hospitals, long-term care or doctor’s offices; correctional facilities, homeless shelter, or schools. And the federal order requiring masks on public transportation remains in place.
The governor also announced that starting this fall for the 2021–2022 school year, schools will be expected to offer full-time, in-person learning for all students and a remote learning option for students who need it.
The state Department of Health released updated K-12 guidance earlier Thursday, which updates health and safety measures while allowing flexibility for physical distancing. Depending on vaccination rates in the fall, distancing requirements may be removed altogether.
The guidance comes after the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup authorized the Pfizer vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds Wednesday night. The health department will allocate vaccines to ensure that providers have a sufficient supply for this new eligible population.
Additionally, the state’s Learn to Return program will be expanded with a new federal grant that will pay for screening testing of asymptomatic students and staff to allow schools in the program to take a more preemptive approach in stopping outbreaks before they happen. The program started with 11 pilot districts and have since expanded to more than 100 across the state. To enroll in the program, schools should contact email@example.com.
Effective immediately, additional activities will be allowed with fewer restrictions and increased capacity for groups of fully vaccinated people. Spectator events, such as indoor and outdoor sports, will no longer have limits on the number of vaccinated attendees. Small cruise ships with less than 250 passengers may sail if the full crew and 95% of passengers are fully vaccinated.
This guidance also applies to conferences, live performances, weddings and funeral receptions, the governor’s office said.