As COVID-19 cases in Washington State continue to increase, on Thursday, July 16th, a seemingly frustrated Governor Inslee held another press conference to announce another change related to the state’s Safe Start reopening plan.
After announcing on Tuesday, July 14th that the freeze on counties progressing through Safe Start phases had been extended until July 28th, today Inslee announced a major change to phase 3.
As originally written, in phase 3 social gatherings were limited to 50 people or less. Thursday, the governor announced social gatherings in phase 3 would be limited 10 or fewer people from outside households. He said the new restriction did not apply to churches, weddings or funerals. A ban on all live indoor and outdoor entertainment was also announced.
The state also reported 1,267 new COVID-19 cases, which included a backlog of about 300 cases from Yakima County. King County reported its highest amount of new cases – 239. Statewide, the 7-day rolling average of new cases [June 26 – July 2] was 627 – the highest since the pandemic began.
Washington state is testing more residents, but positivity and hospitalization rates are also increasing according to state health officials.
Both Inslee and State Health Secretary John Wiesman attributed the rise in cases to casual social gatherings, saying contract tracers are learning this during their work. These include things like barbecues and birthday parties.
Weisman noted the cases per 100,000 metric the state uses as a risk assessment had doubled from June 9th to July 9th. Today the number is 121/100,000. The metric goal is 25. In late May – before the stay home order was lifted – King County was meeting that goal.
Inslee said they are seeing an ‘explosion’ of the pandemic in the younger generation and urged them to wear masks and practice distancing to protect others.
People under age 35 represented 22% of cases from January to March, and by May/June represented 46% of cases. A new DOH report showed the 20-29 age group was most impacted as of late June.
Secretary Weisman warned if the COVID-19 case acceleration trend continues, it could be too dangerous to open schools in the fall. He urged people – if socializing – to connect through zoom calls and when seeing people in person, distance and wear masks.
Inslee echoed Weisman saying changes in social behavior were imperative in getting kids back to school.
The governor said all the precautions residents take today will have an impact on things in the coming weeks, saying he didn’t want to let the virus get out of control like it has in other states.
He stated if the upward trend in community spread continued, he couldn’t rule out having to move counties back phases or issuing anther lockdown. He reiterated that it all hinged on the safety precautions residents take and how the disease spreads.
Inslee also urged the U.S. congress to pass another stimulus bill, saying, “Pass the damn bill so we can do our job and take care of our people.”