Washington Gov. Jay Inslee speaks at a news conference Jan. 5 at the Capitol in Olympia. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee speaks at a news conference Jan. 5 at the Capitol in Olympia. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Inslee: All of Washington to stay in Phase 2 for a few weeks

The governor issued a weekslong pause on regions moving backward, but has yet to outline a Phase 3.

OLYMPIA — Snohomish County, along with the rest of Washington, will be staying in Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan for the next several weeks, Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday.

The governor announced a weekslong pause on counties moving backward to the first phase of Healthy Washington, which barred indoor dining and other business activity. However, it will take weeks to get any details on what’s permitted in a third phase of the plan, and what benchmarks regions must meet to advance.

“We cannot let our guard down when we are so close to potential victory,” Inslee said. “We need to be mindful, working with our scientists going forward. We ought to be both confident and conscious.”

The news comes as most of Washington continues to see decreased COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

Inslee vowed to talk with civic leaders, business owners, workers and “anybody we can find on the Planet Earth to help us” figure out how to continue reopening amid the ongoing pandemic.

When asked if it might take until the end of March before any counties can reach Phase 3, Inslee said “not necessarily. It could be earlier than that.” If the state gets clarity on variants and the ability of the different vaccines to “knock out the variants,” it could be before that, he said.

Two months into the state’s vaccine rollout, more than 1.4 million doses have been administered, and 430,000 Washingtonians are fully vaccinated.

But despite growing supply and increased capacity, many eligible residents remain frustrated with the scarcity of appointments.

“It’s important to step back and remember this is something we’ve never done before in our lifetimes,” Assistant Secretary of Health Michele Roberts said during a Thursday morning news conference. “We’re trying to vaccinate the entire population in six to seven months.”

And another vaccine is likely on the way.

On Friday, a federal health panel is set to begin reviewing Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot vaccine.

Approval could come in a few days, and the state is preparing to receive its first shipment — about 61,000 doses — as early as next week, health officials said.

“That’s not an insignificant amount to add,” Inslee said.

The addition of a third vaccine could cause people to wonder which one they should try to secure.

“The best choice of the vaccine is the one that’s available,” state epidemiologist Dr. Scott Lindquist said. “It really doesn’t matter.”

In Snohomish County, local leaders are hosting a town hall next week to give an update on vaccine distribution and answer questions.

Health officer Dr. Chris Spitters, county Emergency Management Director Jason Biermann, Executive Dave Somers, members of the county council, state lawmakers and other local elected officials will all be present.

The online event is scheduled Tuesday from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. To join, visit www.bit.ly/SnoCoTownHall.

Questions for the panelists can be emailed to paula.rhyne@snoco.org.

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

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