OLYMPIA — Washington state has entered its fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic as cases continue to rise, Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday.

In a news conference where he was joined by health care officials from Pierce County and Spokane, Inslee pointed to data showing an increase in cases, a rise in hospitalizations and the spread of new virus variants.

“Unfortunately, we now are seeing the beginnings of a fourth surge in the state of Washington,” said Inslee.

“And we are starting unfortunately at a higher level than where the other waves started from,” the governor said, in terms of the number of cases right now.

The triad of upward slopes comes as state officials race to get more people vaccinated, even as demand has dropped off in some parts of the state, according to Inslee.

Calling the situation “simply too dangerous to persist,” Inslee called on people to get vaccinated, wear masks and keep their distance.

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Hospitalizations for COVID-19 are also rising, particularly among younger people, he said. Data showed marked increases in hospitalizations for children, as well as for people between the ages of 40 and 59.

Dan Getz of Spokane’s Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center and Holy Family Hospital called it a steady and worrisome increase, though still manageable.

“Patients are getting younger in terms of both hospitalizations and even deaths,” said Getz, the chief medical officer there. “Recently we’ve seen some very sick patients in their 20s and we’re also seeing more patients hospitalized in their 50s.”

MultiCare in Pierce County is also seeing a slow increase in hospital patients, said Dave Carlson, chief physician officer.

Younger patients are being seen there, too, said Carlson, especially people with underlying health conditions like obesity, diabetes and lung disease.

But, “MultiCare is well-prepared to manage the safety and the people that need care in our community,” he added. “Both those with COVID and those without.”

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The rise in cases comes as new variants of the novel coronavirus — some of which are more contagious and deadly — expand in the state.

Inslee shared a chart showing the spread of the variant first identified in the U.K.

That variant was rare in Washington even into early March, according to the data. But it’s now the dominant variant in the state.

Gov. Jay Inslee has set a press conference today at 2:30 p.m. to discuss the state’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Watch here:

The sustained increases in cases and hospitalizations — which determine how widely each county can reopen — do not bode well for the state’s May 3 evaluation to determine whether to tighten restrictions.

In mid-April, state officials ordered Pierce, Cowlitz and Whitman counties to tighten COVID-19 restrictions and move back to the second phase of the governor’s Healthy Washington plan.

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That meant moving back to 25% capacity limits for indoor spaces like restaurants and fitness centers, down from the 50% allowed in the third phase. Washington’s 36 other counties are currently in the third phase.

Asked in the news conference whether the state should evaluate counties sooner than May 3 in light of the situation, Inslee said he didn’t think so.

The governor also said he isn’t currently considering a change to the public-health metrics to make it harder or easier for counties to roll back into tighter restrictions. Shortly before the mid-April evaluation, he and health officials made a change to the criteria that made it harder for counties to go backward into tighter restrictions.