Gov. Jay Inslee said today that Clark County and other regions of Washington will remain in Phase 2 of the state’s Roadmap to Recovery reopening plan without fear of regressing into the more-restrictive Phase 1 any time soon.
“There has been enough success in recent weeks to put a pause on any region moving backwards,” Inslee said at a remote press conference held Thursday, Feb. 25.
The Southwest Region, which includes Clark, Skamania, Cowlitz, Klickitat and Wahkiakum counties, moved into Phase 2 on Feb. 15, after COVID-19 rates decreased throughout the area. The phase allowed fewer restrictions on social gatherings, indoor dining and other activities, including the reopening of indoor movie theaters.
The governor said in mid-February that state officials would reevaluate the eight Washington regions on March 1, to see if COVID-19 metrics warranted moving certain areas out of Phase 2 and back to Phase 1.
Today, however, the governor announced he had good news when it came to Washington’s COVID-19 metrics.
“Washington state continues to lead in saving lives” and trending downward in COVID-19 transmission rates,” Inslee said.
During the peak of the pandemic’s third wave in December and January, Washington was recording nearly 3,000 new COVID-19 cases each day, Inslee said.
“That number has come down dramatically, and we are now below 1,000 (new COVID-19 cases) a day,” Inslee said.
The governor credited Washingtonians for continuing to wear face coverings, distancing, practicing good hygiene “and knocking those numbers down.”
“Despite this good news,” Inslee said, “we need to remain very cautious. This is promising news for the millions who are ready to get back to the life we knew before the pandemic swamped us. But we cannot let our guard down when we’re so close to a potential victory.”
Inslee urged Washington residents to continue taking countermeasures, including distancing and wearing face coverings in public, to maintain the state’s downward COVID-19 trajectory.
The governor said he and other state officials would, “over the next several weeks,” be looking at the latest science around the vaccines’ ability to prevent death and hospitalizations, considering research related to several COVID-19 variants — including the more contagious and possibly more harmful B.1.1.7 “UK variant” discovered this month in Clark County — talking to epidemiologists and consulting county public health and city officials to better prepare for Washington regions’ future move to a not-yet-fleshed-out Phase 3 of the state’s reopening.
Asked by a reporter why the state has not given more details about Phase 3, Inslee said he wanted to give the public “as much predictability as we can provide them” but that state leaders “need to look at the science of the variants, which can be more dangerous than the ones we’ve had experience with,” and “need to look at what has been done and what has worked” before providing more details about what the state’s next reopening phase might entail.
“That will take some time and we want to do it as honestly as we can,” Inslee said Thursday.
The state continues to ramp up its COVID-19 vaccine capabilities, Inslee added.
“We have met the goal of having the capacity to do 45,000 vaccines in a day, now we just need (more vaccine) supply,” Inslee said, adding that the new Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, which requires just one dose instead of two, “is on the verge of being approved” and could soon add tens of thousands of vaccine doses to Washington’s weekly supply.
Inslee thanked President Joe Biden and said the Biden Administration has continued to increase vaccine supplies coming into Washington state over the past few weeks.
“They have increased (the state’s weekly COVID-19 allotment) 37 percent since the administration took office (on Jan. 20),” Inslee said.
Asked to comment on the recent news that Clark County has received fewer COVID-19 vaccines than other areas in the state, Inslee said he has consulted with Washington Department of Health officials, who are “trying to figure out how to solve this problem.”
The governor said part of the vaccine-allotment situation in Clark County stemmed from the county’s lack of deep cold storage facilities needed to store the Pfizer vaccine.
“The county didn’t feel they were equipped to handle the Pfizer vaccine. That has been an issue,” Inslee said. “We have tried to help the county by getting them more storage facilities.”
The governor said state leaders are working to ensure Clark County gets its fair share of vaccines, and added that new research showing the Pfizer vaccine can be stored safely in regular freezers also should help alleviate the issue moving forward.
“This new news that Pfizer can have a simpler supply chain will help Clark County and other places,” Inslee said.