(The Center Square) – Washington businesses are fed up with Gov. Jay Inslee's COVID shutdowns which the state is about to see more of this week.
On Monday, Inslee announced he is rolling back three counties—Cowlitz, Pierce, and Whitman—to the state's Phase 2 COVID restrictions on the grounds they are not meeting their target caseloads.
Under Phase 3 of Inslee's "Healthy Washington Plan," big counties must see 200 new cases per 100,000 people for two weeks straight plus five hospitalizations per 100,000 people for one week.
Counties with 50,000 or fewer people need to have a rate of 100 new cases for two weeks and three or fewer hospitalizations over seven days. Counties must fail both those metrics to get bumped down a phase, unlike previous metrics which allowed them to fail one or the other.
Based on data from the Washington Department of Health (DOH), five counties in all—Adams, Douglas, Pend Oreille, Pierce, Yakima—were well above those thresholds. Monday's news represents what Inslee's critics on the left and right have argued for the past year. The science behind the state's yo-yoing health metrics is unclear to everyone outside the governor's office.
“These metric trends are driven by the virus and we must continue to do everything we can to sharpen our focus and keep COVID-19 activity down," Inslee said. "We are so close to the end of the tunnel here — we have made tremendous progress and we must keep our focus. These are not punitive actions; they are to save lives and protect public health.”
A host of Washington businesses beg to disagree. In a letter sent to Inslee on Friday, a coastline of 70 business associations, including the Association of Washington Business and the Washington Hospitality Association, wrote to the governor urging him to delay any rollbacks until May.
“The decisions you make in this critical moment will not only determine how we respond to the challenges of the pandemic, but they will help determine whether we meet these challenges as a united or divided state," the letter states. "We urge you to grant us the opportunity to remain united. Give us three weeks, and together, we can make a large leap forward in increasing vaccinations and stamping out this virus."
The leisure and hospitality industry has consistently ranked among the state's hardest hit job sectors. The state Employment Security Department reports the industry regained about 12,700 jobs in February or just 13% of the 96,200 jobs it lost to the pandemic in March 2020.
Phase 3, the most generous phase of the plan, allows gyms, bars, restaurants, theaters, and other indoor venues to host gatherings of up to 50% capacity. Phase 2 whacks that capacity to 25%.
Others worry Washington is reopening faster than doctors can get vaccines into arms as case rates climb statewide. From February to March, monthly caseloads in the state fell by 63% from 2,138 to 775. Last week alone, there were 7,499 new cases reported by the DOH or an increase of 205%. By comparison, the state of 7.6 million people is seeing 58,000 new vaccinations per day which take about six weeks for patients to reach full efficacy.
The CDC's COVID Tracker showed on Monday that one out of four people in Washington are now fully vaccinated against the pandemic while another 37% have received at least dose. Washington will open up vaccinations to everyone 16 years and older starting this Thursday along with Oregon to the south.
The DOH reported on Monday that 350,940 in Washington have contracted the virus with another 5,322 people having died from it to date.