Fueled by vaccines, a return to normal is getting closer

Fully vaccinated Washingtonians can enjoy a renewed sense of freedom, public health experts say.

Dr. Chris Spitters (center) during a special meeting of the Snohomish Health District board in 2020. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)

Dr. Chris Spitters (center) during a special meeting of the Snohomish Health District board in 2020. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)

EVERETT — A week ago, Snohomish County was in jeopardy of falling back to Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan.

Now, the county’s 300,000 fully vaccinated residents can be mask-free in many public settings, and Gov. Jay Inslee plans to drop most COVID restrictions on businesses no later than June 30, amid new guidance from public health experts.

“This move sends a signal that the CDC believes in the efficacy of the vaccines, which should come as welcome news,” county health officer Dr. Chris Spitters said in a statement.

In Olympia, Inslee could drop the state’s phase plan even sooner.

For that to happen, the state would need 70% of adults to receive at least one vaccine dose, he said.

Across Washington, and in Snohomish County, 57% of adults have received at least one dose, data shows.

“As the third-most populated county in the state, Snohomish County can play a big role in reaching that statewide goal,” Spitters said. “Supply is not the issue so it is really in the hands of the unvaccinated people whether we move forward sooner or not. We hope the announcement encourages people to take their shot now and help move Snohomish County — and Washington — forward.”

Despite the good news, people shouldn’t ditch their masks yet, Spitters added.

The state has yet to indicate how businesses should handle masks with staff and customers. Those details should emerge in the coming days, state and local leaders say. And businesses can still require patrons to wear a mask, regardless of vaccination status. Others could demand people show proof of vaccination.

Meanwhile, the state’s mask mandate continues to apply to those who are not vaccinated. And the updated guidance does not apply to health care settings like hospitals, long-term care, medical or dental offices, correctional facilities, homeless shelters or schools.

People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or two weeks after the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Those who don’t meet these requirements, regardless of your age, are not fully vaccinated and must continue to follow all prevention measures.

Inslee said his change in course, which puts all Washington counties in Phase 3 until June 30, stems from a statewide drop in COVID cases and hospitalizations.

In Snohomish County, those metrics have leveled off in recent weeks, but the most recent data doesn’t show a dip.

“We hope to see a decrease in the coming weeks,” Spitters said, “but that relies on the community masking up until they’re fully vaccinated and pursuing that vaccination as soon as possible.”

Joey Thompson: 425-339-3449; jthompson@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @byjoeythompson.

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