2:34 PM: Gov. Inslee has just started his first media briefing of the week, announced as “an update on the state’s COVID-19 response,” with four days to go until the current expiration of We’ll add notes as it goes.
He opens by announcing that some “restrictions on religious gatherings” will be “eased,” both for Phase 1 and Phase 2 areas. He introduces religious leaders from Muslim, Jewish, and Christian organization. “For in-person services … Phase 1” will now allow “outdoor religious services” on or adjacent to the organization’s property, up to 100 people if they’re wearing face coverings (and using physical distancing). For Phase 2 areas, indoor services at 25 percent of capacity will be allowed. Choir singing won’t be allowed yet, though, because of science regarding transmissibility.
2:45 PM: The governor turned over the mic, so to speak, first to Aneelah Afzali, the West Seattleite and local Muslim leader, who said that Muslims are yearning to return to mosques but that preserving life was the paramount goal. She’s followed by Olympia rabbi Yosef Schtroks, who makes a similar statement. After him, Lutheran Bishop Shelley Bryan Wee speaks, urging people to follow the governor’s protocols to protect each other.
2:53 PM: Before moving on to Q&A, the governor announces that more counties have moved to Phase 2, now 24 in all. “We remain hard at work determining our next steps as a state come June 1 … we’ll have more to say in the next few days.”
First Q, the current eligibility metrics seem impossible for larger counties, so might they change? And if you’re going to require face coverings for religious services, why not, say, grocery stores? He says he’ll have more to say about the latter “probably Thursday or Friday.” For the former, “we may have more to say in the future” is all he’ll say: “We look at the science on a daily basis … we’re continuing to think about the criteria going forward.”
Next Q, another two-parter: Is he standing by his Employment Security Department director given the fraud situation, and might he let larger counties make their own decisions? To the former, he has words of scorn for the criminals. “I stand against them and we’re doing everything we can to fight them.” To the latter, he notes the counties can maintain their own restrictions if they’re tougher than the state. “The difficult part for us to realize is … we’ve knocked down the fatalities … but the evidence remains clear that this could spring back quickly.” Overall, he declares, “We’re making real progress in our state.”
Then: What’ll be done for people who now are being told they can’t get their unemployment payments at all? He says the department’s doing everything it can. He says the ESD director thinks there’ll be big progress in the next two weeks or so, and “will have more to say about that tomorrow.” Also: Why does the governor have any say over religious gatherings at all? Inslee replies that in emergencies, that authority is established “in American law.”
Might some counties end up moving to Phase 3 while others remain in Phase 1? “It’s possible,” Inslee says. After that, he’s asked why our state is still “stricter” than others. “Because people are dying … we still have a meaningful infection rate in our state,” he replies. In response to another question, he says people seem to be adopting more protection – face covering, social distancing – even as they resume more activities – he says infections haven’t increased at the same rate as mobility. He repeats that they’re “still developing” plans for the counties that remain in Phase 1.
Another question is about Chelan and Douglas counties’ lawsuit. The governor repeats that he is hopeful the infection rate will allow those counties to move to Phase 2. He reminds people that this state was first and hardest hit and has made progress. As for the lawsuit itself, he says they certainly have the right to go to court but “we believe we’re on sound ground making these decisions.” … After that, might he consider graduations for loosening restrictions like will be done for religious gatherings? No – the latter are getting special treatment because of their unique constitutional protection. Then: Is the public-health emergency over? His reply boiled down to “No. … If we give up now, this disease is going to come back big time.”
In closing: “I just want to thank everyone (for their efforts) to defeat this virus,” and he says this is the “hardest phase” …adding that “today the mark of heroism is giving your neighbor some space on the sidewalk, or wearing a mask at the grocery store.” He wraps at 3:30 pm; the full video should be available soon in the same window above, and we’ll link the document about today’s religious-gatherings announcement when it’s available.
4:41 PM: Find that document here.