Safe Start plan on hold for all phases

— Created July 8, 2020 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

An increase in the number of COVID-19 cases across the state has led Gov. Jay Inslee and Wash. Secretary of Health, John Wiesman, to halt any advancement to new phases of the Safe Start plan.

While an indefinite pause on allowing any counties to advance to Phase IV of the plan had been announced previously, now no counties will be permitted to advance to Phases II or III for at least two weeks.

“Counties will remain in their current Phase for at least the next two weeks,” Wiesman said in a press conference last Friday. “Any applications under review by the department are paused until July 16.”

Furthermore, those counties that have progressed to Phase III, such as Island County, must now prohibit bar and counter service at restaurants and taverns.

“We are trying to eliminate prolonged mingling at restaurants and taverns to ensure people remain safe,” Inslee said. “We can’t have people mingling shoulder to shoulder, it’s just too dangerous.”

The actions follow a sharp increase in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases across the state. Island County has also seen an increase in cases. The total cases stood at 198 as of Monday, an increase of seven from last week and an overall increase of 17 in the past three weeks. This is a trend statewide.

“Cases are increasing statewide,” Inslee said. “The virus is at the same level it was at the peak of the infection rate we were experiencing in April. This is obviously great cause for concern.”

Wiesman said the rise in cases is not the result of increased testing. He said the percentage of positive test results is rising, as is the number of people reporting to hospitals with COVID-like illnesses and the number of people being admitted to hospitals has also increased.

Now, rather than shutting things down like the state did before – although it proved effective in controlling the virus – Gov. Inslee said he will beef up mandatory masking requirements put in place last week.

“We’d like to continue to open our economy, but that can only happen if we drive down the rate of infection, and that involves wearing masks,” he said.  

As of Tuesday, anyone entering a business must wear a mask.

“The new process will require businesses to refuse service to those not wearing a face covering,” Wiesman explained, adding the reasons to wear a mask have become obvious.

“We know 20 to 40 percent of cases are asymptomatic – people don’t show any symptoms but can still pass the virus on,” he said. “We also know people can spread the virus two days before they begin showing any symptoms.”

Inslee said he hopes pressing the pause button now and using simple tools like wearing masks and continuing social distancing will allow the state to keep moving forward in the weeks ahead.

“This is an extremely troublesome spike in the number of cases we are experiencing,” said Inslee. “But because we know how to better protect ourselves from this virus, we can better avoid repeating the painful shutdown we’ve experienced over the last several months.”

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