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The state is at a standstill.

With counties not allowed to advance in his reopening phases, Gov. Jay Inslee has one message for residents: Wear a mask.

In a news conference Thursday, Inslee reiterated the importance of facial coverings in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, urging residents to wear a mask so the state can further open its economy.

"This is just a reality," Inslee said. "This virus is a cruel beast, and it is growing in our state."

As case numbers increase throughout the state, Inslee said the only way to move forward is to continue to use tools already in place, such as wearing masks and social distancing.

In Spokane County, the health district reported 53 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, meaning the district has reported more than 300 new cases in the last five days. There are 36 patients hospitalized in the county, and 20 of them are Spokane County residents.

Spiking cases is a problem in many parts of Washington.

Several counties east of the Cascades are far from meeting the goal of 25 confirmed cases per 100,000 people in the last two weeks. In Spokane County during that time, the rate was 135 per 100,000. In Yakima County, that rate is 504 cases per 100,000. In Douglas County, it is 247 cases per 100,000.

In other words, as Inslee told reporters Thursday: "This virus is growing in our state and growing in many parts of our state. Now it's wider community spread."

Statewide, daily case counts continue to be at or well above April levels, and to date, nearly 38,000 Washingtonians have tested positive for the virus.

Secretary of Health John Wiesman said there is evidence that masks slow the spread, pointing to Yakima and Benton counties, which have had face mask requirements since the end of June. The numbers there are encouraging, he said.

"We're hopeful we can see similar results around the state," Wiesman said.

It will take a few weeks to see the results of the statewide mask mandate, but Inslee said he is confident it will help slow the spread if everyone takes part.

He added he is hesitant to make plans for further restrictions, such as changing phase requirements or moving counties back.

"We're trying to plan for success here," he said.

As the state approaches the beginning of the school year, Inslee said he is working with school districts and Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal to determine the best way to open in the fall.

Inslee said the state will continue to follow health and safety guidelines but does not know exactly what that could mean for the fall. He said he will meet with Reykdal in the next week to further discuss specific plans, adding it will not be "one size fits all" and each district likely will have a different plan.

Inslee criticized President Trump for his threats Wednesday to cut federal funding to schools if they do not reopen in person in the fall. He threatened to sue the president if federal funds are cut.

"I want the state of Washington to make a decision for the state of Washington," he said.

As Washington's tourism season would be in full-swing in midsummer, Inslee said he has no current plans to implement travel restrictions, despite many other states across the country doing so.

As the number of cases rises across the state, Inslee said it is something he will continue to consider. It could change at any point, he added.

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(c)2020 The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Wash.)

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