Washington state is open — “big time” — Gov. Jay Inslee declared Wednesday.
“We are in the City of Destiny, saying it is our destiny to reopen Washington, and we are realizing that destiny,” an exuberant Inslee told a crowd of several hundred gathered at a celebration in a Tacoma park. “We are open, big time.”
The governor, along with other elected leaders and public health experts across the state, spent the day rejoicing that after more than a year of living under COVID-19 restrictions, they’re gone and it’s safe to resume most pre-pandemic activities.
“These 18 months have tested all of us in many ways and they have caused devastating loss,” state Deputy Secretary of Health Lacey Fehrenbach said at a Wednesday news conference. “However, in addition to honoring all that we’ve lost and suffered through, we have to celebrate the heroic efforts of millions that helped us to get to this point.”
Going forward, the biggest concern is counties and communities where vaccination rates are lagging, state Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah said.
As of Wednesday, 69% of Washingtonians 16 and older had received at least one shot, while 60% were fully vaccinated.
But immunizations vary by county.
In Snohomish County, about two-thirds of all residents have had at least one shot. That’s the fifth-highest percentage in the state.
However, some areas of the county, including Arlington, Darrington, Monroe, Sultan, Gold Bar, Granite Falls and parts of Everett, have vaccination rates at or below 50%, according to estimates from the Snohomish Health District.
If more people in those areas don’t get vaccinated, cases could again start to rise, Shah said.
“This is about your health, your well-being and those around you,” he said.
Despite the concern, most of the state’s COVID safety rules went away Wednesday. Among them were limits on how many people retailers and restaurants could allow inside their businesses.
It will take time for most businesses to adapt, officials warned. And not every rule goes away. Business owners can still require patrons to wear masks, regardless of their vaccination status.
Some practices launched in response to the pandemic won’t disappear with reopening.
Takeout, delivery and curbside pick-up of kegs, pre-filled growlers and pre-mixed cocktails will continue for at least two more years under a new state law.
Cannabis retailers can, for now, keep selling products at walk-up windows or via curbside pick-up. But those opportunities end July 31, the state Liquor and Cannabis Board announced Wednesday.
As city councils and school boards resume meeting in person, many are looking to retain an option for residents to provide comments remotely, at least during designated public comment periods.
Meanwhile, the county and several cities have, or will soon be, reopening buildings to the public.
On July 6, all Snohomish County government facilities will reopen, though unvaccinated visitors must wear a mask. And people are encouraged to check www.snohomishcountywa.gov to see if they can use online services and avoid a trip to a county facility.
“Snohomish County residents have beaten back four waves of the COVID-19 pandemic and have been vaccinated in significant numbers,” Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers said in a news release. “While the pandemic has not ended and COVID-19 remains a public health challenge, we can safely resume in-person government activities that were suspended in March 2020.”
Starting Thursday, you could encounter crowded buses again as Community Transit and Everett Transit lift limits on capacity on all their routes. Passengers still must wear masks on buses and in indoor transit facilities and maintain a six-foot distance from bus drivers, except when paying their fare.
Also Thursday, Washington State Ferries will return to normal passenger capacity, and customers will no longer be encouraged to stay in their vehicles.