Washington state plans to drop all COVID restrictions June 30

Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday that the state is on track to reopen its economy completely by the end of June, or earlier if vaccine rates speed up.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee speaks in Tukwila on May 4, 2021. (Ted S. Warren/AP)

With the number of new COVID-19 cases declining, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday that Washington state’s economy will likely be able to reopen completely by June 30.

Inslee also offered a big new carrot to Washingtonians still on the fence about getting the coronavirus vaccine: If the percentage of people age 16 and older with at least one shot reaches 70%, full reopening will happen even sooner. King County has already passed that milestone and new cases of the virus are trending steadily downward.

“This does not mean that our state of emergency will end on June 30," Inslee said. “The virus is not done with us.”

The Washington State Department of Health reports that more than 6 million doses of the vaccine have been given since the rollout began in December; statewide, about 57% of people 16 and older have had at least one shot and nearly 44% have been fully vaccinated. In King County, 51.6% of people 16 and over have been fully vaccinated, and 70.3% have received at least one shot.

Inslee says the plateau of new cases health officials saw earlier this month has transitioned into a downward trend in new cases. Although vaccine numbers also continue increasing, the governor announced several new incentives to get Washington adults vaccinated. Fully vaccinated people will be able to attend events — such as indoor and outdoor sports, as well as live performances, weddings and funerals — without limits.

“This does not change our responsibilities. It just increases our possibilities," the governor said during his news conference.

The state Liquor and Cannabis Board is also considering requests from wineries and breweries to offer free drinks for vaccinated customers. And the Mariners will be giving away prizes to people who have had the vaccine.

Washington state’s reopening announcement happened just as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offered another big incentive to get vaccinated. The CDC announced Thursday that people who have been fully vaccinated can safely stop wearing masks and social distancing both indoors and outside, except where required by state or local rules.

Inslee announced Washington state would be following the CDC guidance for people who have been fully vaccinated, but businesses may still require their customers to wear masks and they may ask for proof of vaccination. He expects this new allowance will give people another incentive to get vaccinated.

People can find available vaccine appointments at the state Department of Health’s vaccine locator website. They also can call the state’s multilingual telephone hotline number at 800-525-0127. Another resource is the Washington COVID Vaccine Finder, which calls itself a community-driven effort to help Washingtonians find vaccine appointments. Public Health — Seattle and King County is also implementing a new program to vaccinate individuals who cannot leave their homes.

As of next Tuesday, every county in Washington will be in Phase 3 of reopening, which means restaurants, movie theaters, bowling allies and other venues may open for indoor activities at 50% capacity. Reopening will be at 100% on June 30 if current trends continue, the governor said. If statewide capacity in hospital intensive care units goes back up and reaches 90% at any time after reopening, the governor warned he would order closures again to save lives.

Adds details on the mask mandate change and quotes from the governor.