OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee is preparing to announce changes to Washington’s coronavirus reopening plan early next week, as cases rise around the state and across the nation.
In the meantime, Inslee’s office announced a short-term extension through July 9 of the statewide emergency coronavirus restrictions, which were to expire Wednesday. The restrictions, known as the “Safe Start” plan, adds requirements for employers to follow the directives of public-health authorities battling the pandemic, according to a statement.
That short-term extension comes “in anticipation of additional modifications that will be made early next week,” according to the statement by Inslee’s office. The Safe Start plan was to expire Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the governor’s office intends to issue updated guidance on Thursday for the Safe Start plan, according to the statement.
Inslee spokesman Mike Faulk wrote in an email that he wasn’t able to provide further details Wednesday about either of the impending announcements.
Faulk cited the unpaid furloughs in the governor’s office to save money amid the coronavirus-driven state budget shortfall.
“Unfortunately the people I would pose this question to have all gone home as of 5 pm sharp because of the furlough requirements on hours,” Faulk wrote.
The extension renews all parts of the existing order and adds some new requirements, according to the statement.
Those short-term additions include requiring employers to cooperate with public-health officials investigating COVID-19 outbreaks and cases, as well as cooperating with the implementation of measures to stem infections. It also requires that businesses comply with orders and directives by public-health authorities, according to the statement.
Wednesday’s announcement comes as state officials grapple with an increase of COVID-19 cases across the state. State health officials Wednesday reported 611 new COVID-19 cases and seven more deaths.
In an effort to slow the spread of cases, the governor last week announced an emergency order requiring state residents to wear masks in most situations while in public.
On Saturday, Inslee announced that counties would not be allowed to move to the fourth — and least restrictive — phase in the four-part plan. Among other things, that phase would have allowed the return of nightclubs, concerts and gatherings of more than 50 people.
Announced May 29, the Safe Start plan replaced Inslee’s original stay-at-home order. It laid out criteria for Washington’s 39 counties to more speedily move through the four-part reopening process that had been created during the stay-at-home order.
After its announcement, Pierce, Snohomish, Clark and other counties swiftly advanced to the second phase, which allows for a broad reopening to many businesses, with safety guidelines to protect against the virus.
King County quickly advanced to a “modified phase one,” allowing the reopening of barbershops and hair salons, along with some outdoor dining.
Even as officials chart their latest course to navigate the pandemic, Inslee’s office Wednesday evening suggested the governor may not ultimately call lawmakers back this year for a special legislative session.
The governor and Democratic legislative leaders had said a special session was likely to start reckoning with a projected $8.8 billion budget shortfall through 2023. Republican lawmakers had been calling for one to take place already to make adjustments to the budget.
But Inslee won’t make a decision on a special session until it is known whether Congress includes financial help for state and local governments in its latest coronavirus-relief package, Faulk wrote.
“The governor and staff would then determine what remains to be done and if a special session is necessary,” Faulk wrote in an email. “Talks with House and Senate colleagues continue.”
House Minority Leader Rep. J.T. Wilcox of Yelm said he still supports having a special session, which he believed had been tentatively planned for August.