OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee Friday announced that retail stores could start with curbside pickup services, landscapers and pet walkers could get back to work and five small counties could begin to reopen more quickly amid the new coronavirus.
With Friday’s announcement, all of the industry sectors Inslee listed in the first part of his four-phase plan to reopen the state will now be able to resume in some form under safety guidelines.
When he revealed his plan last week along with an extension of his stay-at-home order intended to slow the spread of the virus, the governor said he hoped to get those businesses reopened by mid-May.
But in a news conference Friday on the state’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Inslee also warned that a key public-health number — the transmission rate of COVID-19 — had gotten slightly worse.
A report from the Bellevue-based Institute for Disease Modeling (IDM) showed that the estimated infection rate — which projects how many others an infected person, in turn, infects — had risen slightly in Western Washington. That number within King County has risen as well, according to a report issued earlier this week by the IDM.
“We are making progress in this fight,” Inslee said, adding later: “But I am very concerned about the situation we’re in today, despite that progress.”
“Because we just are in a very precarious situation, we’re sort of poised on that knife edge of whether we’re really going to wrestle this all the way to the ground,” he said.
State health officials confirmed 157 new COVID-19 cases Friday, including 14 more deaths.
The update brings Washington’s totals to 16,388 cases and 905 deaths. So far, 235,835 tests for the illness have been conducted in Washington, according to the latest data released by the Washington State Department of Health. Approximately 6.9% have come back positive.
Nevertheless, with Washington avoiding the dramatic spikes in deaths experienced in other states, and with concern over the deep economic freeze caused by the virus, the governor continued Friday with his four-phase reopening plan.
Inslee’s stay-home order is in effect through May 31, but the first phase has begun allowing some businesses and social activities to open earlier.
The governor’s plan also anticipates other restrictions being in place weeks after May 31 — and only being lifted once public health data shows the outbreak has been sufficiently reduced.
On Friday, Inslee announced that retail stores considered nonessential under the stay-at-home order could start offering customers curbside delivery.
Businesses must keep employees and customers more than six feet apart during interactions, and screen employees for COVID-like symptoms at the beginning of their shifts, according to the safety guidelines. The guidance does not allow in-store retail activity for businesses considered nonessential.
The governor’s office has set up an online form for business owners and operators to submit questions if they are unsure of the reopening guidelines or have other inquiries: https://app.smartsheet.com/b/form/2562f1caf5814c46a6bf163762263aa5.
Inslee on Friday also announced that the state had approved applications for Columbia, Ferry, Garfield, Lincoln and Pend Oreille counties to now move to the second phase in the state’s reopening plan. Those counties were eligible to reopen faster because they have fewer than 75,000 people and haven’t had a confirmed COVID-19 case in three weeks.
Phase two is expected to begin for most areas on June 1, provided public-health data still looks favorable.
Among other things, the second phase allows the start of new construction and the opening of hair salons and barbershops. Restaurants would be able to open to 50% capacity, but must keep tables to five or fewer people. Some in-store retail purchases would also be allowed.
As part of that first phase, Inslee earlier this week issued guidance allowing vehicle and vessel dealers to resume sales, some carwashes to reopen, and for religious groups to offer drive-up services.
Previously, the governor allowed the resumption of some construction and nonurgent surgeries. Some outdoor activities have started back up, like golf, hunting and fishing, and state parks have begun to reopen for day use.
During the early part of the governor’s stay-at-home order, the virus’s infection rate had dipped below 1 for the counties in Western Washington, according to the IDM data shown by Inslee Friday.
That means the numbers showed that a sick person was expected to infect less than one other person, a dynamic that led to the dampening of the virus.
But by April 19, that level had risen back to 1, meaning one infected person on average gave the virus to one other person. The Eastern Washington rate, meanwhile, had originally declined to just above 1, but by April 19 was also trending slightly higher, according to the data.
Just last week, the IDM had issued a report showing that the transmission rate of the virus in King County was declining.
But now, the rising transmission rate in King County and across the state means people shouldn’t relax their social distancing efforts, said Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County.
“This report once again reminds us that our position is precarious and COVID-19 transmission and new cases remain unacceptably high,” Duchin said. “We need to double down on distancing and other prevention steps at home, in the community, and in workplaces and we must see these numbers improve before relaxing our current restrictions.”
The models are intended to help give researchers and public health officials a better idea of how widespread COVID-19 is throughout the state. While 7% of those tested have been positive, the number is believed to be larger because of the lack of broad testing.
The models are constructed using death data and information about the virus’ lethality to recreate the unseen transmission of a disease. IDM also used information gathered from the SCAN surveillance program that has volunteers swabbing their noses at home and sending the samples to a central lab for analysis.