For the first time since March 2020, Washington businesses are able to open at full capacity, with the majority of COVID-19 restrictions lifted.
Gov. Jay Inslee removed the majority of capacity constraints and social distancing requirements on businesses Wednesday, allowing restaurants, bars and other businesses to open to full indoor capacity levels.
Jefferson County’s universal masking mandate is also lifted Wednesday, with the county following state Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah’s masking directive.
There have already been fewer masking requirements since last month, when the state adopted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance that eased most indoor mask-wearing for fully vaccinated people.
Masking rules will remain in place at health care settings — like hospitals and doctor’s offices — correctional facilities, homeless shelters and schools, and masks will continue to be required for unvaccinated employees who return to work indoors. And businesses can continue to choose to require masks for their customers, regardless of vaccination status.
Large indoor events of more than 10,000 people, like concerts, still will be restricted to 75 percent capacity unless the event does vaccination verification prior to entry and all attendees are vaccinated. Those restrictions will be reevaluated July 31, Inslee’s office said.
Clallam County Health Officer Dr. Allison Berry is worried about cases rising locally with the lifting of the restrictions.
“It’s concerning,” she said. “I think parts of the state that have very high vaccination rates like Seattle are likely going to be fine.
“When the restrictions are lifted in places like Clallam County, when we currently have moderate to high transmission and we have somewhat lower vaccination rates, we’re likely to see even more infections after the restrictions are lifted.”
Berry stressed that although people can gather in large groups indoors, it doesn’t mean it’s safe to do if those people are unvaccinated.
“What is allowable and what is healthy is different,” she said. “If you are fully vaccinated, it is safe to live your life normally.
“But, if you’re unvaccinated, we strongly recommend against spending any prolonged time indoors with other unvaccinated people. Certainly doing so unmasked is also something we do not recommend.”
Berry and Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer, urge the unvaccinated to continue to wear face masks.
Locke believes counties would be better protected if 80 percent or more of the population 12 and older — the population eligible for vaccinations — were vaccinated.
“We’re still not where we would want to be,” Locke said. “One out of four people in a county who are susceptible to COVID is still enough people to keep the pandemic going and cause outbreaks.
“One in four is not evenly distributed. In fact, it’s whole households or groups of friends or people who belong to the same church or workplace. Anywhere we have clusters of unvaccinated people, we’re going to have clusters of infection.”
Clallam County is now contact-tracing a second church outbreak. That outbreak consisted of three confirmed cases as of Tuesday. A larger church had an outbreak of 24 infections and has been tracked by the county. It appears to be tapering off, Berry said.
Berry and Locke do not identify the location of an outbreak if they’re able to trace contacts of all possible exposures, they have said.
Both health officers continue to urge residents to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Anyone 12 and older is eligible to be vaccinated, but those younger than 18 can only receive Pfizer’s vaccine.
Vaccination clinics on the North Olympic Peninsula this week can be found at www.peninsuladailynews.com/news/official-covid-19-droplets-evaporate-in-high-temperatures.
Five new COVID-19 cases were confirmed in Clallam County on Tuesday, and 112 have been confirmed in June, about 7.66 percent of 1,463 cases reported since the pandemic began, according to county data.
Jefferson County held steady with no new cases Tuesday and has confirmed 32 cases this month, about 7.13 percent of the 449 total cases since the pandemic began, according to county data.
Forty-two cases were active in Clallam County on Tuesday and seven were hospitalized, with two patients in the Intensive Care Unit at Olympic Medical Center and two in ICUs outside the county. Jefferson County had six active cases.
Clallam County has recorded 12 deaths due to COVID-19 while Jefferson County has recorded four.
Both counties are in the state’s moderate-risk category with case rates of 68 per 100,000 population for the past two weeks as of Tuesday in Clallam County, and Jefferson County at about 43.89 cases per 100,000 for the two weeks prior as of Saturday.
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at [email protected]