Republican lawmakers in Washington state unveiled a plan Thursday that would lift many COVID-19 restrictions ordered by Gov. Jay Inslee and potentially lift them all within three weeks.
Inslee later in the day flatly rejected the proposal.
The Republican plan, called Open Safe, Open Now, would immediately return all K-12 students to in-person learning, as well as open all business activity to 50 percent capacity, then to 100 percent capacity within three weeks if there is no spike in hospitalizations.
“Look at what’s happening to the COVID-19 curve – cases, hospitalizations and deaths are in free fall,” said Senate Republican leader Sen. John Braun of Lewis County. “We’re at a point where county health officials can handle what’s ahead, so the focus should be on being open unless there is ample reason not to be. The centralized approach to responding to this pandemic needs to end. Our plan represents the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ that the governor seems unable to define.”
Inslee says he won’t follow Texas example
Inslee quickly issued a statement calling the Republican plan “political rhetoric with bullet points.”
“This plan would undoubtedly lead to a rebound in COVID activity,” Inslee said. “More people would suffer as a result. It is not a serious proposal.”
When asked about the Republican plan at a press conference Thursday, Inslee referenced Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott announced Tuesday that as of March 10 he is lifting the state’s mask mandate and opening all businesses to 100 percent capacity.
“We are not following the leadership of Texas on this because we have saved perhaps 11,000 people by following science about what will protect our people. We will continue to do that,” Inslee said.
The governor then turned to state Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah, who was hired in November after seven years leading Harris County Public Health in Houston, Texas.
“We know that we just passed this sad milestone this week with 5,000 Washingtonian deaths and yet we also recognize that it could have been more if we did not follow the guidelines and follow the preventative measures. So, I guess I have this public health bias.,” Shah said.
Nick Streuli, Inslee’s director of external affairs, said representatives from the governor’s office have been meeting with local elected officials, business leaders and public health officials “to solicit input on where we go from here and how we add additional re-openings into our plan.”
Streuli added that at the same time they will approach such re-openings with the same caution they’ve practiced since the pandemic began.
The Republican reopening plan was crafted by Sen. Sharon Brown of Kennewick, who questioned Inslee’s ability to fairly reopen the state. She pointed to his Healthy Washington plan, under which for a short time all the state except the South Central region she represents was moved to Phase 2.
“Last month, our region dodged a bullet,” Brown said. “We were left out of Phase 2, because of alarmingly high hospitalization rates. It turned out to be a mistake, which was only identified thanks to the keen observations of a county official who caught the error and brought it to the attention of the Department of Health. Had she not, a swath of the state – from the Tri-Cities to Ellensburg to Walla Walla – could still be in Phase 1 today.”
A big driver of the Republicans’ Open Safe, Open Now plan is Inslee’s lack of a Phase 3 for the Healthy Washington plan, the lawmakers said.
“Gov. Inslee made it clear last week that he has no plan,” said Sen. Lynda Wilson, of Vancouver. “Republicans are stepping into the void with a sensible and straightforward approach that will free these important members of our communities from the limbo they’re in, and offer a clear path back to full operation.”