11:06 AM: Just under way and viewable above (or here), Governor Inslee‘s media briefing, at which he is expected to announce the latest evaluation of which counties are eligible for which reopening phases. (King County has been in Phase 3 since March 22nd.) We’ll update as it goes.
He starts by saying the plan is on “pause” for at least two weeks, so King County stays in Phase 3 for now. He says the newest data suggests the situation is “plateauing” statewide – maybe even a slight decline.
He notes that the death rate “has gone down dramatically” though hospitalizations are up, and he cites “vaccination progress” for that. If this progress continues, he says, “sometime in the summer we could potentially have much more normal activities in the state.” He urges that people continue to get vaccinated to ensure the progress. Don’t take them for granted, he says – “these vaccines are desperately wanted across the planet, and we have them right here in Washington state.”
11:14 AM: King County’s public-health officer Dr. Jeff Duchin says the county has indeed “leveled off,” and the two-week pause “provides time to see more reliably” where we’re at and where we’re heading, “and whether we’re turning the corner on the ‘fourth wave,’ which we may be. … I think this s a good and difficult decision by the governor.” He adds, “Vaccination is our ticket to a more stable, more normal lifestyle.”
And, adds Inslee, safety protocols remain vital.
State Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah reiterates that the two-week “pause” will be a chance to see if things are getting better or worse. He notes that it’s been less than three weeks since vaccine eligibility opened to everyone.
11:24 AM: Now on to media Q&A. First one: Why not just give counties the authorization to make their own reopening decisions? The governor says the state-led approach has saved thousands of lives. Dr. Duchin adds that the state’s had one of the nation’s lowest case and death rates for most of the pandemic because of the unified approach.
Next question: Might the plan change so that businesses can have some predictability/certainty? Inslee says “this pandemic has been so rapidly changing and so unpredictable” that a “flexible” plan has been important to have – and in this case, the flexibility involves pausing the plan. “We will look at this for the next two weeks … we are hopeful these trends will continue to go down … we have to figure out which pitch this virus is throwing at us.”
Then: What level of vaccination is the governor looking for, to enable “more normal” activities? Inslee says it’s not yet known what level of vaccine is needed to complement whatever level of natural immunity is out there, but “every single time somebody gets vaccinated” it’s closer.
Q: Couldn’t a pause help counties get a handle on hospital capacity? The governor replied that he hasn’t heard of any major problems aside from Ferry County, which has decided on its own to move back. (During the reply, he mentioned again that the pause is also intended to avoid “disruption to the economy.”)
Q: What more can be done to convince people to get vaccinated? The governor declares, “We’re doing everything humanly possible to give people multiple avenues … We just need people to do this.” Drs. Shah and Duchin acknowledged that some people may not feel much at risk – but need to get vaccinated to help protect others in the community.
Q: A reporter says a restaurant owner has commented about the governor, “He just changed the rules again – how can we trust the process?” Inslee said, “I hope the restaurant owner is happy we just changed the rules again … I would think that’s a popular position with the restaurant industry … (but) he can stay at 25 percent if (he wants).”
Q: What about creating vaccinated sections for restaurants, as the state has now done for some events? Inslee says a lack of compliance with previous rules (in passing, he mentioned $7 million total fines) meant “we just don’t believe there’s a meaningful way” to do that; he also said the state asked the restaurant industry if they wanted that and they did not. As part of a related reply, he again says today’s decision “is not the governor throwing darts at a board,” it’s based on a recent change in trends.
NOON: The event’s offer with one last pitch from the governor saying, “Our destiny is in our hands and that means getting the vaccine.” Here’s the announcement from his website; the archived video should be viewable soon in the same window above.