OLYMPIA — Washington state is on the cusp of leaving pandemic-era restrictions in the dust and reopening fully, Gov. Jay Inslee announced last week.
Inslee announced a cascade of news at a May 13 press conference, highlighted by his declaration that the state’s covid-19 restrictions, in place for more than a year, should be broadly put to bed by the end of June.
Beginning May 18, every county in the state will move to Phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan, the phase Pacific County has been in throughout the spring. Counties will remain in Phase 3 through June 30, Inslee said, when most restrictions will be lifted and public spaces — such as restaurants, bars, stores, churches, movie theaters and the like — may return to full capacity.
“This is one of the most remarkable days in our state’s history after a year-and-a-half-long struggle,” Inslee said.
Restrictions could be lifted sooner, he added, if at least 70% of Washingtonians age 16 and older have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine. As of last Thursday, 57% of state residents 16 and older have received at least one dose. In Pacific County, that figure was 50% as of last Wednesday.
New mask guidance
Just hours after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced new guidance on May 13 that fully vaccinated people could forgo wearing masks in most indoor settings and all outdoor settings, Inslee announced that the state was adopting those same guidelines, effective immediately.
Inslee stressed that the new guidance is for fully vaccinated people, and that businesses retain the right to require customers to wear masks if they so choose. Businesses may also ask for a person’s proof of vaccination if they enter their premises unmasked. Additionally, masks are still required in places such as hospitals, schools and public transportation.
In Pacific County, county health director Katie Lindstrom said she expects many businesses to continue requiring customers to wear masks for the time being, rather than devoting extra time and resources to verify someone’s vaccination status. Businesses are waiting on updated guidance from the state Labor & Industries Department on how they should navigate the new changes.
“My guess is that there’s going to have to be some kind of a check-in place [at businesses] regarding the not wearing masks, so a lot of businesses may end up choosing to just continue to require masks versus having to implement some kind of a system where they have to verify vaccination status,” Lindstrom said.
Lindstrom also reiterated that the new mask guidance is only for people who are fully vaccinated, meaning they are at least two weeks removed from receiving either their second Pfizer or Moderna dose or their single Johnson & Johnson dose. She said there’s been a lot of confusion about the new guidance, with many people assuming that the mask mandate has been totally lifted.
In an effort to help speed up the state’s vaccination rate, Inslee also announced some restrictions are being lifted immediately for those who are fully vaccinated.
Spectator events, including indoor and outdoor sports, will no longer have limits in place for how many vaccinated people can be in attendance. The guidance also applies to weddings, funerals, live performances and conferences. Meanwhile, small cruise ships with less than 250 passengers may set sail from Washington ports if the full crew and 95% of passengers are fully vaccinated.
Along with the obvious health benefits, the state hopes that the immediate relaxing of these restrictions for fully vaccinated people will serve as an additional incentive for those who are hesitant to get vaccinated.
The state Department of Commerce is working with the Association of Washington Business to pay for gift cards to businesses for those who have recently been vaccinated, while the state is teaming up with organizations like the Seattle Mariners to do prize giveaways of products from blue-chip Washington companies like Costco, Microsoft, Alaska Airlines and T-Mobile.
Lindstrom said she hasn’t been informed of any vaccination incentives being offered by any Pacific County businesses or organizations, but said she herself took advantage recently of an incentive offered by Fort George Brewery in Astoria.
“I think they really see it as a way to get us back to normal, kind of for their sake,” Lindstrom said. In Oregon, most restrictions will end once a county reaches 70% vaccination rate. “They see it as ‘This has been hard on our business, let’s have our patrons and everybody come together and get vaccinated and meet this goal so we can stop having to have all of these restrictions,’ which I think is a very fair point for them to make.”
Inslee didn’t rule out additional incentives at his press conference, and said there have been internal discussions about offering additional financial incentives. In Ohio, the state will hold five $1 million raffles in the coming weeks to anyone who has been vaccinated, and in West Virginia the state is offering $100 savings bonds. Further incentives could be announced this week, the governor indicated.
If you know of any Pacific County businesses or organizations offering vaccine incentives to customers, feel free to email email@example.com.