OLYMPIA — Washington’s broad COVID-19 restrictions will lift by June 30, if not sooner. And starting immediately, fully-vaccinated people will have fewer requirements for wearing masks, and can attend weddings, funerals and sporting events without capacity limits applying to them.
Gov. Jay Inslee’s announcements in a news conference Thursday marked by far the most dramatic easing of restrictions since the coronavirus pandemic roared into Washington last spring.
Sitting down to his conference table in the Capitol, Inslee removed his face mask, a staple worn at public appearances since end of last June, and announced Washington will lift the state’s broad COVID-19 restrictions by June 30.
A full reopening would come sooner if 70% or more of state residents over the age of 16 have gotten at least their first shot before then, said the governor. Currently, 57% of Washingtonians 16 and up have gotten at least one shot, according to Inslee’s office.
“We know that vaccines are fundamental to this next chapter of this journey, so we don’t have to rely on social distancing and restrictions,” said the governor.
“We are confident this can work, but we need everyone to pull on the rope here,” Inslee added. “We don’t want to see this pandemic coming back.”
The developments come the same day that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced relaxed guidelines for the wearing of masks by those fully vaccinated.
Washington will also adopt those guidelines, Inslee said, which will allow masks outdoors in crowds and in most indoor settings.
And starting immediately, the state will ease restrictions for groups of fully vaccinated people.
For example, events like outdoor and indoor sports won’t have capacity limits for the number of attendees who have been vaccinated. Likewise, weddings and funerals will be allowed at full capacity if the attendees have all been vaccinated.
In the meantime, starting Tuesday and until a full reopening date, all of Washington’s 39 counties will be in the third and least-restrictive phase of the governor’s current “Healthy Washington” plan.
Thursday’s announcement marks a turning point for Washington after more than a year of unprecedented restrictions to curb a pandemic that has fundamentally reordered social and economic life.
Most counties — including King and Snohomish — are currently in the third phase, which allows indoor spaces like stores, venues, restaurants and fitness centers to operate at 50% capacity.
Thursday’s developments may bring a measure of certainty after an uncertain few months where Washington experienced a fourth surge. Just two weeks ago, King County was seeing public-health metrics that would have driven indoor occupancy down to 25% under the Healthy Washington plan.
Meanwhile, a handful of counties — including Pierce — last month rolled back to tighter restrictions amid a surge in new coronavirus cases.
In a statement, Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers applauded the announcements.
“It’s been a long, hard year of battling the pandemic, and now we can see a bright light at the end of the tunnel,” said Somers in prepared remarks. “The Governor’s announcement today just confirms that getting vaccinated will be the quickest way to end the restrictions, fully open up our economy, and get everyone back to work.
Our community is ready to put the pandemic behind us, and the tool is in everyone’s hand: get vaccinated,” he added.