Pause for phased reopening extended through July 28

By Rachel La Corte | The Associated Press

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday the statewide pause for counties looking to advance from their current stage of economic reopening will continue through at least July 28, and he warned there is a “significant risk” that parts of the economy may have to be closed again if coronavirus activity continues to climb.

The pause — implemented earlier this month — was originally intended to be in place for two weeks for the state’s 39 counties, which are in various phases of a four-stage economic reopening plan. But Inslee said the number of confirmed cases and hospitalization rate is troubling.

“We’re not in as bad of shape as some other states,” Inslee said at a news conference. “But we have to look where we’re going to be, not just where we are. And we are heading to big trouble if we do not figure out a way to knock this pandemic down.”

Inslee mentioned states like Oregon and California, both of which recently rolled back reopenings in response to a spike in cases.

“Doing so would be really tough,” he said. “But the status quo, we know, is very, very dangerous right now.”

Inslee said the actions people take now — including wearing facial coverings and maintaining physical distance from others — “is going to determine what this virus looks like in the fall.”

Last week, an enhanced statewide order took effect that requires businesses to refuse service to customers who don’t wear facial coverings. That order builds on previous mask requirements issued last month.

Exemptions exist for people who are deaf or have hearing loss, those who have medical conditions that preclude them from wearing a mask, and children age 5 and younger.

People engaged in recreation alone or with household members and those eating out at restaurants don’t have to wear masks as long as they are properly distanced from others.

Seventeen counties are in Phase 3 of reopening, which allows gyms and movie theaters to operate at half capacity, restaurants to increase capacity to 75 percent and for group gatherings of up to 50 people, including sports activities. Standalone bars in counties in this phase are still allowed to stay open and provide table service, but bar seating is not permitted.

Seventeen counties are currently in Phase 2, which allows restaurants and taverns to operate at half capacity with limited table sizes, hair and nail salons and barber shops to resume business, and retail stores to reopen for in-store purchases at 30 percent capacity. It also allows additional outdoor recreation and gatherings with no more than five people outside of a person’s household.

Five counties — Benton, Chelan, Douglas, Franklin and Yakima — are currently the only counties in a modified Phase 1 of reopening, which allows some additional business activity beyond essential businesses.

Also Tuesday, the state Department of Health released a new death data report that includes different categories of deaths related to COVID-19.

The report comes a day after the Department of Health had reported it reduced the number of coronavirus deaths in the state after determining 39 deaths had been from natural causes.

The latest numbers released Tuesday found that, in the cases of 1,458 deaths where the person tested positive for COVID-19, 65 were determined to not have the virus as a cause or contributing factor of death: nine died due to homicide, suicide or accident, and 56 were determined to be natural deaths.

Of the 1,393 cases that remain, 1,301 are confirmed coronavirus deaths, 25 are where death certificates are pending or missing a cause of death, and 67 are suspected to be COVID-19 related but their death certificates don’t reflect that.

The Department of Health will follow up on each case of suspect deaths to determine the cause.

Additionally, there are 80 deaths where a death certificate lists COVID-19 as a cause or contributor to a death, but where the person does not have a known positive coronavirus test. That number is not included in the daily count.

Statewide, more than 41,700 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed.

The virus causes mild to moderate symptoms in most patients, and the vast majority recover. But it is highly contagious and can cause severe illness and death in some patients, particularly the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.

Officials said that determining the extent to which the coronavirus contributes to a person’s death makes the process complex, and data is likely to continue to change over time.

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