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OLYMPIA, WA — Governor Jay Inslee announced Tuesday that the current statewide pause on counties reopening will continue through July 28, possibly longer.

Today’s news comes as COVID-19 cases statewide continue to spike, and Inslee said that this time is a pivotal in determining what conditions will look like in September when students — at all levels — are expected to return to the classroom.

“We have to find somewhere to break that chain of looming disaster,” Inslee said.

Inslee also issued an advisory that Washingtonians shouldn’t be surprised if some pandemic restrictions are rolled back over the course of the pandemic. He said this may include things like indoor seating in businesses, but that will be determined in the upcoming days and weeks. New restrictions will also be determined by how many people wear face masks and practice physical distancing in public.

The governor also praised residents for adhering to the mandatory statewide order to wear face masks. He said today’s announcement is designed to keep the virus from spreading.

“We are not in as bad a state as others,” Inslee said, naming Arizona and Florida, that have been struggling in recent days to stop a massive virus case spike. “We can’t overstate how important this moment is in addressing the pandemic.”

The state’s mandatory face mask rule went into effect on June 26. Under the order, violators can be punished with misdemeanor criminal penalties and businesses are asked to refuse service to customers who are not in compliance with the order.

COVID-19
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Inslee said the face mask order is having a positive effect on fighting COVID-19.

“What we know is this effort is working,” Inslee said. “Washingtonians are masking up.”

Exemptions to the face mask order include:

  • People who can’t wear masks because of existing medical conditions.
  • Children 5 years old and younger.
  • People who are deaf or need to have their mouth uncovered in order to communicate.
  • When it is onerous to do so, including customers who are eating out at a restaurant.

“We have to look at where we’re going to be, not where we are,” the governor said.

Gov. Jay Inslee today activated an additional 200 members of the Washington National Guard in response to a second request from the City of Seattle to help clean up, protect against property damage, and manage crowds and traffic during downtown protests, which resulted in riots. Guard personnel will be unarmed and work under the direction of City of Seattle leadership.

The additional guard personnel were activated by a letter from the governor to Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty, commander of the Washington National Guard, the day after demonstrations in Seattle protesting the death of George Floyd in Minnesota earlier this week turned into destructive riots.

Inslee this morning issued the following statement:

“Saturday’s disheartening events in Seattle – carried out by a smattering of the thousands of protesters on hand – will not deter the cause of justice. Hundreds of public servants and volunteers are already helping clean up the property damage done. I have complete faith that downtown Seattle will recover from this quickly, and the state will help, however we may be of assistance.

“Thousands were protesting peacefully against an atrocious act of brutality. This cause confronts a different kind of destruction, one that can’t be fixed with new windows, graffiti-scrubbed walls or insurance. The message behind the demonstration was compelling and one all of us should share. We will not allow vandalism and destruction to obscure the protest’s central call for justice.

“On behalf of all Washingtonians who believe in justice, I want to thank the protesters who carried a peaceful and important message. We all also owe gratitude to law enforcement, fire fighters, medics, National Guard and volunteers who are working to protect the city and its people.”

Read the letter here.

Riots
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Olympia, WA — Governor Jay Inslee announced Friday the state’s phased reopening “Safe Start” proclamation is replacing the existing emergency “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order, which is set to expire on May 31. 

The new order loosens several aspects of his shelter in place policy, which began in March, but it also asks Washingtonians to voluntarily wear face masks while at work, or in public settings.

During the presser Inslee said he is updating the metric of requiring there to be no more than 25 new cases per 100,000 residents in past 14 days, from 10 cases per 100,00 residents.

The new proclamation is likely to speed up efforts to reopen parts of Washington under the governor’s four-phase recovery plan. 

His new plan makes it easier for businesses in more populous counties to move phases, and to evaluate more on a county-by-county basis. No county is yet in Phase 3. Twenty-six counties are in Phase 2. Clark County’s application to move to Phase 2 is on pause, pending a full review of last week’s coronavirus outbreak at a fruit processing plant in Vancouver.

“This is a path that will have more businesses opening,” said Inslee. “It will mean more activities will be allowed, and more flexibility will be allowed for counties in a variety of phases.”

Inslee also encouraged all Washingtonians to wear face coverings in public.

“When we wear a face covering, I really think it’s an expression of love and affection,” he said. “It’s a badge of commitment, and it’s a critical tool in moving forward.”

Face masks
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As part of this plan, workers in Washington will have to wear facial coverings at their jobs, unless they don’t have in-person interactions. That part of the provision will take effect June 8.

Washington’s largest counties, facing higher COVID-19 infection rates have largely remained in Phase 1 of Inslee’s plan. Friday’s order should change that.

The guidance at work places is as follows:

  • Workers are required to wear face coverings.
  • Employers must provide face coverings.
  • Stores will encourage shoppers to wear face coverings by posting signs.

Dr. John Lynch, an infectious disease doctor from Harborview Medical Center, said: “This is just one of many things to help each other. A lot of people have minimal symptoms or don’t even know they’re sick, it’s like influenza. Putting on a mask is effective at capturing droplets.”

Lynch said face masks “are not a perfect tool” and added “if we wear this it shows we are supporting each other, and we know we can’t wear the masks all the time.”

Inslee likened this new approach to prevent the virus from coming back rapidly. 

“We’re getting out of the quarantine lifeboat,” Inslee said. “The science on the cloth mask is more conclusive that they (face coverings) do help.”

Inslee said the order does not require business owners to reject a customer who is not wearing a face mask.

Senator Ann Rivers, who represents Washington’s 18 legislative district, said: “By today’s guidelines set by Governor Inslee Clark County could open, but the official approval from the Secretary of Health Weisman to move to Phase 2 is still on pause. Now, with that said our Clark County Director of Health is really pushing Weisman to open as soon as possible.”

In his press conference today, Governor Jay Inslee said that religious congregations throughout Washington can gradually return to normal worship services, as he explained new state guidance.

Inslee said that in-person religious gatherings are allowed to resume with restrictions that adhere to physical distancing and safety practices to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The governor’s new guidance lines up with the first and second phases of his recovery plan.

For example, in Clark County, which is currently in Phase 1, outdoor religious services on church property would be allowed for up to 100 people. Counties in Phase 2 — such as Cowlitz, Skamania, and Lewis — would be allowed to have in-church services at 25 percent capacity, or with no more than 50 congregants. The new Phase 2 guidance also permits in-house services or counseling at a congregant’s residence, as long as it includes five or fewer people. The new guidance applied to religious services, study groups, ceremonies, and holiday celebrations.

Inslee urged appropriate physical distancing and face masks, and said there should be six feet between seats, frequent cleaning and sanitization, and appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) available at all times.

The governor said the ban has been a challenge for people of all religions acknowledging that “people treasure gatherings.”

“Obviously (the religious communities) are protecting their own flock, their own congregation … but they’re protecting everybody outside, of multiple faiths,” Inslee remarked. “This is truly an all-faiths issue.”

TUMWATER, WA — Washington businesses that decide to open or operate in direct violation of Gov. Inslee’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy order may be cited and fined for unsafe workplace conditions under emergency rules filed today by the state Department of Labor & Industries. L&I filed these new rules at the direction of Inslee.

”The closure order and the Safe Start Plan to reopen businesses are in place to keep workers and the public safe and to prevent the spread of the easily transmissible coronavirus,” said L&I in a statement today.

The emergency rules take effect immediately. They give the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) the authority to cite businesses for being open or for operating in a way that is purposely defying the phased-in approach and, as a result, putting their workers at risk.

“We’re all in this together, and most businesses are doing the right thing for our state and our communities. Unfortunately, there are some that are choosing not to,” said L&I Director Joel Sacks. “The coronavirus is a known workplace hazard and businesses must follow the requirements to keep their workers and the public safe.”

Protecting Worker Safety

L&I said they will work with the state Emergency Operations Center to take in and respond to complaints about businesses that are operating illegally. If employers are found to be defying the Governor’s order, they’ll be informed and directed to close or adjust operations immediately. If they do not, they’ll face a workplace safety citation that could carry a fine of nearly $10,000 or more.

Along with contacting businesses by phone and in writing, L&I will perform in-person spot checks on some of the businesses to make sure they are following through and complying with the Safe Start requirements.