OLYMPIA — With dangerous heat ensconcing itself in Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee Friday lifted COVID-19 capacity restrictions for cooling centers run by governments and nonprofits.
Temperatures are expected to surpass 100 degrees Sunday and reach a record-breaking high Monday of 104 degrees, according to a National Weather Service warning.
In a statement Friday afternoon, the governor said that heat would put state residents “at high to very high risk of heat-related effects.”
“I want to ensure that local jurisdictions have flexibility in options that can provide relief from the heat,” Inslee added.
Cooling centers allowed to lift capacity restrictions are those administered, created or designated by a local, county or state agency, or a nonprofit organization, according to the statement.
Under the governor’s coronavirus order, known as the Healthy Washington plan, indoor spaces have generally been restricted to 50% of total occupancy.
When Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan initially announced Monday that library branches with air conditioning would be used as cooling centers this weekend, her office said they would be restricted to 50% capacity. When Durkan provided an update Thursday, no such restriction was mentioned.
Friday’s suspension of restrictions doesn’t apply to private, for-profit businesses that are opening up air-conditioned spaces to the public.
Other COVID-19 restrictions remain in effect until Wednesday, when they are set to lift. Those restrictions could still lift earlier, if 70% percent of Washingtonians ages 16 and up have started the vaccination process.
As of Friday, 68.2% of those state residents have gotten their first shot, according to the state Department of Health.
As Inslee spoke about balancing COVID-19 concerns with heat-related precautions Friday, there were changes on the ground in Seattle.
Seattle Housing Authority residents saw their air-conditioned community rooms opened Friday for the first time since the virus emerged. Signs posted in the housing authority’s buildings said the community rooms would be available temporarily, during the heat wave.
Nancy Carpenter, 81, who lives in the housing authority’s Blakeley Manor building for seniors near University Village, pushed for the community room there to open.
“This is nice and cool,” said Carpenter, who spent some time Friday reminding her neighbors to close their blinds against the sun. There are large fans on each floor but many residents lack air conditioning.
The building’s manager, Kai Liu, said the air conditioners in the Blakely Manor community room were added in 2019.
“We want to make sure (the residents) have somewhere to escape (the heat). No other places are open at night,” Liu said. “We don’t want anyone to be exhausted.”
As a reporter chatted Friday afternoon with residents next to the housing authority’s University House tower in the University District, an employee poked her head outside to say she was opening the community room there. The residents went inside to fetch some playing cards, eager to enjoy the space.