OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee is keeping his foot on the brakes for counties trying to advance phases in his “Safe Start” plan, and warned there is a “significant chance” the state could soon move in reverse if the coronavirus continues to spread.
In early July, the governor announced counties would have to wait until July 16 to ask the state to move forward in his four-tiered reopening plan. On July 14, Inslee extended the pause until at least July 28. And unless Washingtontians mask up and halt the rising spread of the virus, there is a significant chance restrictions on businesses and social activity could soon come back, he said.
“We have to face a brutal truth. Unfortunately, this pandemic is still raging in the state of Washington,” Inslee said during a July 14 news conference. “That’s painful to say, but it is a reality.”
Figures for new cases, infection rates and hospitalizations are rising at a stable rate statewide, Inslee said.
“We are not seeing the explosive rise like we did in March,” Inslee said. “We are seeing a steady climb. Somehow we have to break that climb to a plateau and break that number down.”
That could mean re-enacting restrictions for indoor activities like dining, he said.
To avoid that, wear a face mask, avoid large groups and limit unnecessary activity.
The governor’s announcements come as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in King County.
As of the July 14 press conference, King County had 12,224 positive cases and 606 total COVID-related deaths, according to the county. Statewide, Washington has seen 42,304 confirmed cases of COVID and 1,404 total COVID-related deaths as of July 14, according to the state Department of Health.
Across the state, new cases are concentrated with young people, who are less likely to experience serious symptoms from the virus. Some counties have seen increases in hospitalizations believed to be associated with cases creeping into older age groups.
Across the country, elected leaders and health experts have long said quick contact tracing is key in the fight against the coronavirus, as businesses and activities reopened after months-long closures.
Local health officials have struggled to track down the newly infected and notify everyone potentially exposed to the virus in the timely manner sought by the state as a requirement for reopening.
Statewide, counties are reaching between 30% to 100% of people within 24 hours of a positive test result, state Secretary of Health John Wiesman said during a news conference last week.
In May, Gov. Jay Inslee launched an initiative to assemble a brigade of men and women to assist local health districts contact individuals sickened with coronavirus and track down others who they may have infected.
Since then, roughly 1,500 people have been trained as contact tracers. Of the total, about half are members of the National Guard and the other half are employees of the Department of Licensing. And the pool continues to grow with 268 people added to the ranks in recent days.