Washington will partially reopen outdoor recreation activities May 5, including many previously shuttered state parks, public lands and boat ramps as well as recreational hunting and fishing, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Monday.
State parks, public lands and public water-access points have been closed since late March, in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Recreational fishing seasons were closed a few days later when Inslee first issued his “stay-home” order to slow the virus.
Earlier this month Inslee extended that order through May 4, but state Republicans have been pushing for some parts of the state’s economy to reopen. He later announced when the state’s economy would eventually reopen, it would be done in phases.
Inslee last week allowed residential construction to resume, provided construction sites meet safety and social-distancing requirements.
Inslee, in a news conference Monday, described reopening outdoor recreation as a second step of many in reopening the state’s economy, but he gave no timeline for when the next steps would come, saying it would depend on data. He said many restrictions would have to stay in place beyond May 4, but did not specifically say whether the stay-home order would be extended. He has repeatedly referred to the reopening of the state’s economy as a dial, rather than a switch, saying restrictions would be lifted gradually.
Public gatherings and team sports will remain prohibited and people pursuing outdoor recreation must still abide by social-distancing guidelines, Inslee said.
“We do think some small changing of that dial is appropriate, but we are so far from being able to turn this off like a light switch, that is just way too dangerous,” he said Monday.
He displayed a chart showing hospitalizations for COVID-19 have fallen significantly in the past couple of weeks, but another chart showed virus growth could soar if restrictions are lifted too soon. The state will look at hospitalizations, testing data, hospital capacity and other metrics in determining when to lift restrictions, Inslee said.
“There is no one number that we are going to look at,” he said. “This job would be so easy if there was one metric I could give you.”
As of midnight Sunday, there were 13,686 cases of COVID-19 in Washington, including 765 deaths.
Inslee said many state parks and state lands would reopen for day use; golf courses would be allowed to reopen; and hunting and fishing seasons would open, as seasonally appropriate, on May 5.
“This is not a return to normal today,” Inslee said. “The virus is too rampant to allow that.”
State campsites will remain closed for the time being. Recreational fishing on the Pacific Coast, in Marine Areas 1 through 4, will also remain closed.
As outdoor recreation reopens, people will still have to observe social-distancing measures, Inslee said. Only those living in the same household should go boating together. People passing each other on trails should still give 6 feet of leeway. Golfers will have to play in twosomes, not foursomes, unless all four golfers live in the same household.
Several golf industry groups around the state had lobbied earlier this month for reopening courses.
At Green Lake Park, which like other Seattle parks has mostly remained open, several people Monday afternoon said they had concerns about Inslee’s decision to begin the reopening process next week.
“I have concerns that everyone’s going to flood in all at once,” said Jo O’Neal, who lives in Seattle’s Maple Leaf neighborhood. “I would personally rather play it safe.”
The reopening was welcomed by anglers who also have been lobbying for eased restrictions.
“Everybody has been on edge. It has been really bad. People are very upset [about] not being able to go fishing,” said Ron Garner, a Monroe fisherman who is president of the state board of Puget Sound Anglers.
Even with the order, not all fisheries will reopen. Coastal beaches will remain closed to shellfish harvests, and coastal fisheries will still be shut down for rockfish, halibut and other species, according to Kelly Cunningham, director of the fish program for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
In Puget Sound, fisheries for halibut, shrimp and intertidal shellfish will be off-limits. And the reopening will come too late to revive a north Puget Sound winter salmon season for blackmouth chinook that was scheduled to run only through April 30.
Inslee has acknowledged recreational activities — like fishing — were one of the tougher things to close down, since people could maintain 6 feet of distance while doing them.
Anti-tax activist and Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Eyman held a small protest in Seattle on Sunday, calling for fishing to resume. Eyman on Monday said Inslee “buckled to that pressure.”
But Inslee pushed back on the criticism. Fishing and outdoor recreation were always going to be among the first things to reopen, his office said.
“The things we’re doing, by necessity have criticism and controversy, they’re very difficult for people. It’s really hard isolating, it’s really hard being out of work,” Inslee said. “But no one is proposing a date to reopen the state that I’ve heard, they just kind of carp on our plans.”
Seattle Times staff reporters Hal Bernton, Elise Takahama and Ryan Divish contributed to this report.