‘We aren’t there yet’: Gov. Inslee pauses ability for counties to progress to phase 4

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Governor Jay Inslee is temporarily halting the ability for counties to progress to phase 4, citing a rise in COVID-19 cases statewide. 

“Phase 4 would mean a return to normal activity and we can’t do that now due to the continued rise in cases across the state,” Inslee said in a release Saturday. 

Prior to the pause, eight counties were eligible to apply for phase 4 under Inslee’s Safe Start plan. 

Yakima County is currently the state’s epicenter for the virus. In Spokane, 32 more people tested positive for the virus between Friday and Saturday, marking 383 new cases in a two-week span.

There are currently 20 Spokane County residents hospitalized for the virus, with an additional 15 out-of-county residents being treated at local hospitals. 

Elected officials have pushed for Spokane’s transition to phase 3, but top health official Dr. Bob Lutz has insisted Spokane County will not be ready until health numbers improve.  

“We all want to get back to doing all the things we love in Washington during the summer, and fully open our economy, but we aren’t there yet,” said Inslee. “This is an evolving situation and we will continue to make decisions based on the data.”

Secretary of Health John Wiesman sent a letter to local and tribal health officials on Saturday. It reads:

Dear Local and Tribal Health Leaders,

“I am writing to let you know Governor Inslee and I have decided to pause progression to Phase 4 statewide. 

“We decided to prohibit any counties from moving into phase 4 at this time due to increasing COVID-19 activity across the state and significant rebounds in COVID-19 activity in several other states. The changes between Phase 3 and Phase 4, especially with regards to gathering size and occupancy rates, could further increase the spread of COVID-19 in our state, even in communities that have very low rates of disease. The progress we’ve made thus far is at risk, therefore we are making the prudent choice to slow down our phased approach to reopening.

“In the next couple of weeks, I will work with Governor Inslee and his team to assess the need for a modified approach for moving beyond Phase 3. I will communicate that decision to you when we have more information. Counties that are currently able to apply to move from Phase 1 or 2 are still able to apply when eligible.

“Thank you for your continued work to protect the health of Washingtonians during this unprecedented time.”

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READ: ‘Spokane is right on the verge of a very dire situation’: Inslee says as hospitalization rates rise