OLYMPIA — A state of emergency declared at the outset of the pandemic came to a quiet end Monday.
Gov. Jay Inslee issued the order Feb. 29, 2020, a month after the first known case of the novel coronavirus in the U.S. had been reported in Snohomish County, and the same day as a death in the state was the first reported from COVID-19 in the nation.
Inslee would eventually issue 85 different orders including ones covering closing of schools, shuttering of businesses, wearing of masks indoors, and vaccination requirements for health care and education workers.
Most had been lifted. The last 10 ended Monday.
“The past two and a half years have been some of the hardest anyone can remember. Through the loss and suffering, we did not lose faith and we did not abandon each other,” Inslee said in a statement. “Working together, we saved countless thousands of lives.”
There have been 14,550 deaths in Washington since the start of the pandemic, and nearly 1.84 million cases of COVID-19 as of last week. Snohomish County has recorded 1,327 deaths and 194,059 cases, according to state Department of Health data.
Among states, Washington has the fifth-lowest death rate per 100,000 people, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“While we are grateful for the thousands of lives we saved together, thousands of lives were also lost, and many more were changed forever,” Inslee said in a statement.
The unprecedented length of Inslee’s declared state of emergency fueled efforts to reign in the executive’s power the past two legislative sessions.
Senate Republican Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, said Monday that ending the state emergency “is long overdue.” He renewed his call for reforms to enhance the Legislature’s ability to limit the length of future executive orders beyond 30 days.
“Washington was under one-man rule for 975 days. With this finally behind us, I hope the majority party will be willing to discuss legitimate bipartisan reform of the governor’s emergency powers,” he said in a statement.
Jason Mercier, director of the Center for Government Reform for the Washington Policy Center, said whether one agrees or disagrees with each of Inslee’s emergency orders “the fact remains these decisions with vast impact on individuals and businesses were made behind closed doors in the executive branch.”
“Our system of governance is not meant to be the arbitrary rule of one behind closed doors,” he said in a statement. “An emergency order should never last for nearly 1,000 days unless it has received affirmative authorization for continuation by the legislative branch of government. The legislature must still act to restore the balance of powers for future use of emergency orders.”
Though the state of emergency is lifted, masking requirements remain in place at health care and long-term care settings under an order issued by the state Department of Health.
And employers can continue to require vaccination as a condition of employment if they choose. Inslee had previously announced such requirements would remain an employment requirement for most state agencies.
As of last week 72% of the Washington population age 6 months and older was fully vaccinated. About 60% of those age 5 and older who are eligible for boosters have received one, according to the Department of Health.
Cases and hospitalizations have declined significantly since a major omicron-fueled peak in January. But health officials continue to urge people to get the new COVID-19 booster recently endorsed by the federal CDC. This booster is a bivalent vaccine, half the original vaccine and half protection against the BA.4 and BA.5 omicron versions now causing the majority of COVID-19 infections.