Inslee: Open for business by end of June

COVID-19 restrictions on businesses are likely to be lifted on June 30, and state masking restrictions for fully vaccinated people have been loosened to follow federal guidelines, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday.

“Our state, most of our businesses, will stay at 50 percent capacity for indoor activities. But on June 30, that will be lifted, going back to 100 percent,” Inslee said.

The two counties on the North Olympic Peninsula are taking different tactics on the loosening of mask restrictions.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new guidance Thursday that eased indoor mask-wearing for fully vaccinated people in most indoor spaces.

However, Jefferson County will continue to follow Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke’s mask mandate that predates the state’s masking mandate.

Clallam County does not have a county mask mandate and will follow the state’s guidance, said Dr. Allison Berry, Clallam County health officer.

Restrictions on businesses being lifted — allowing 100 percent capacity — on June 30 could happen earlier if the state reaches 70 percent of residents 16 and older having received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccination, but the date could be pushed back if the state’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU) capacity struggles to keep up with COVID-19 cases.

About 57 percent of Washington residents 16 and older had initiated vaccination as of Thursday, Inslee said.

The CDC’s new guidance that Inslee adopted Thursday still calls for wearing masks in crowded indoor settings such as buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters.

Businesses and local public health districts can still enforce mask wearing if they choose, Inslee said.

The CDC no longer recommends that fully vaccinated people wear masks outdoors in crowds.

The announcement comes as the CDC and the Biden administration face pressure to ease restrictions on fully vaccinated people — those who are two weeks past their last required COVID-19 vaccine dose — in part to highlight the benefits of getting the shot, The Associated Press reported.

Jefferson County continues to have a universal masking mandate, which Locke won’t change until more clarity is available on how to prove a person has been vaccinated.

“There are major implementation problems that I hope will be addressed,” Locke said regarding the updated guidance. “Currently there’s no way to verify who has been fully vaccinated and who has not.

“I don’t think it’s reasonable that businesses are going to be able to tell and somehow verify who’s vaccinated. It devolves into an honor system where anybody can claim that they’re fully vaccinated and they’re not, including people who are completed unvaccinated.”

Locke hopes there will be guidance released as to how to prove vaccination, outside of showing the cards given at the time of vaccination.

“There’s certainly risks involved in this, and I’m not sure how completely that’s been thought through,” Locke said. “I’m not inclined to alter the Jefferson County masking mandate until we’ve addressed that issue.

“Masking is a very effective way to prevent COVID-19 transmission. We’ve just crested the fourth wave, but we’re just over the crest, so there still is a lot of COVID-19 activity going on in Washington state. Part of the reason that’s going down is due to the masking mandates for the unvaccinated.”

Outside of how to prove someone is vaccinated, Berry supports the change for vaccinated community members, so long as people continue to follow local mandates like Jefferson County’s.

“The CDC guidance really mirrors what we’ve known, which is if you’re fully vaccinated, you can return to a largely normal life,” Berry said.

Being fully vaccinated for COVID-19 not only protects from catching and transmitting the novel coronavirus, it also limits the severity of infection if a person does contract the disease, Locke and Berry have said, adding that no vaccines are 100 percent effective.

Implementing the masking changes without increasing the case rate in the state will be a challenge, Locke said.

“If people who are unvaccinated stop wearing masks, we’ll see increased transmission among the unvaccinated,” he said.

“More people who are unvaccinated will not only get the infection, but they can spread it to other people who are unvaccinated, and that’s not an insignificant thing.

“It’s not harmful for people who are fully vaccinated to wear masks in public places. People who are unvaccinated who would like to stop wearing masks in public settings — there’s a very simple solution to that, and that is to get vaccinated.”

The state has a vaccination locator at vaccinelocator.doh.wa.gov, which allows users to see where appointments are available and which vaccine they’re using.

All Washington residents 12 and older are eligible to be vaccinated. However, anyone younger than 18 can only receive Pfizer’s vaccine.

The full calendar for pop-up clinics in Clallam County can be viewed at tinyurl.com/PDN-ClallamPopUps.

Clallam County confirmed eight new cases of COVID-19 Thursday, while Jefferson County confirmed four new cases, according to county public health data.

Clallam County has confirmed 72 cases so far this month, about 5.52 percent of the 1,305 cases reported since the pandemic began, according to county data.

A total of 21 cases have been confirmed so far this month in Jefferson County, about 5.11 percent of the 411 total cases confirmed in the past year, according to county public health data.

Forty-six COVID-19 cases were active as of Thursday in Clallam County, with four patients currently hospitalized in the Intensive Care Unit. Jefferson County had 13 active cases Wednesday.

The Peninsula has had 12 deaths related to COVID-19, with nine in Clallam County and three in Jefferson County.

Clallam County is in the state’s high-risk category with a case rate of 109 per 100,000 population for the past two weeks as of Thursday, while Jefferson County is in the moderate-risk category with a case rate of 62.7 per 100,000 for the two weeks prior as of Saturday.

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