OLYMPIA — To reverse the spike in covid-19 cases across the state, gatherings in Pacific County must have no more than 10 attendees starting Monday, July 20.

The new order will apply to all counties in Safe Start Phase Three. Gov. Jay Inslee announced the new gathering limit during a news conference Thursday, July 16. Under the previous Safe Start Order, counties in phase three were allowed to have gatherings of up to 50 people.

The new order will also ban live entertainment, regardless of whether it is indoor or outdoor. A worrying trend of new covid-19 cases caused Inslee to take action to prevent social gatherings across the state, he said.

“Hospitalizations are also going up, deaths are also going up and we simply do not want to see scenes in Mukilteo or the Tri-Cities or in Olympia that look like Arizona and Texas today," Inslee said. "In those states, those communities are having to bring in refrigerated trucks for people who have lost their lives because of the onslaught of this pandemic.”

Between June 26 and July 2, Washington State confirmed 629 new covid-19 cases, which was the highest seven-day average throughout the entire pandemic, Inslee said.

"We cannot rule out the potential for another stay home order this year," Inslee said.

Visitors to the coast

The rise was also seen in some coastal communities such as Grays Harbor County, where the number of cases rose to 58 from 25 between July 15 and July 1. Pacific County's cases did not see a steep increase, however a test of the Long Beach sewer system estimated about 30 people in the city on July 5 were shedding the virus that causes covid-19.

Coastal communities saw an influx of travel at the start of July for Independence Day. Inslee did not order the beaches closed for the holiday, and local leaders did not close beach approaches, fearing it would cause visitors to swarm the cities' businesses. First responders and law enforcement were also concerned about how closing beach approaches would affect their ability to respond to emergencies on the beach. 

The state's decision not to close the beaches prior to the holiday was due in part to Inslee not being "omnipotent," he said during Thursday's news conference.

"We’re doing everything we can to save lives but I haven’t been able to have a decision making for every hundred yards in the state of Washington," Inslee said. "We just did not consider there being that level of risk that justified additional decision making that was specific to the ocean beaches."

No special session expected

When asked if having the Legislature back in session would help to have local issues better represented on the state level, Inslee said no. 

"There is nothing special about a special session that already doesn’t exist," Inslee said. 

Legislators, mayors, county commissioners and executives can call the governor at anytime, Inslee said. No local leaders expressed concern about the beaches being open prior to the holiday, his office added after the news conference.

"We have open communication without the necessity of a special session," Inslee said.

Inslee outlined his reasons why a special session wasn't needed. First, because the state is financially stable enough to make it to January, Inslee said. Second, the state also needs to wait to better understand how the U.S. Congress might fund relief efforts in the state.

Finally, after speaking with state legislative leaders, Inslee said it was clear to him that there was no consensus on how to pass a budget that had majority support in both chambers.

For those three reasons, Inslee said he would look forward to working with legislators in January.

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