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Governor defends regional reopening plan

Gov. Jay Inslee defended his plan to phase in the opening of businesses by region, saying he knows it goes too slow for some people.

“Everybody can have a rational argument against what we’re doing, but you can’t argue with the results,” Inslee said, “which is that we are ahead of 45 other states.”

According to Inslee, that translates to an extra 8,000 saved lives in the state with more than 700,000 individuals already vaccinated.

However, many Republicans remain unsatisfied with Inslee’s approach. Several hours before Inslee made his comments Feb. 4, four Senate Republicans announced they were forming a Freedom Caucus to press for fewer restrictions.

“Governor Inslee has a heavy-handed approach and I believe a tremendous infringement on people's personal rights and liberty,” said Sen. Phil Fortunado, R-Auburn. He was joined by senators Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, Jim McCune, R-Graham and Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley.

The governor’s COVID-19 restrictions on businesses are “taking the life savings of people that are just trying to run a family business, a family store,” Fortunado said.

While acknowledging the criticisms, Inslee said his regional approach for determining when people can open is necessary to contain the spread of COVID-19 and makes more sense that going county by county.

“The reason we did it this way was twofold,” Inslee said. “First, we’ve added a new metric of the dynamic activity in hospitalizations and ICU capacity.”

He added: “If you go to a county-based system, you might close the restaurants in Benton County and open them in Franklin County, a half mile away,” Inslee said. “I can assure you, we’d be criticized for that.”

He also responded to criticism from the Whatcom County health board regarding vaccine distribution inequities between counties.

“These are not random decisions,” Inslee said. “As far as allocation, the general goal is to save as many lives in the state of Washington in the fairest way possible. In the quickest way possible,” Inslee said.

As part of his efforts, Inslee also said he hopes to sign and approve SB 5061 by Friday, one of several packages working their way through the Legislature.

“It both increases the minimum unemployment benefits for workers and it provides $1.7 billion in unemployment tax relief for businesses,” Inslee said.

He also highlighted the work of school systems in helping 200,000 students return to in-person education and the Seattle Seahawks for being the only NFL team without a confirmed case of COVID-19.

The vaccine allotment for Washington will be increasing soon according to Inslee, but no firm date was given by him or his team.

“We could easily do 45,000 vaccinations today, it’s just that we’ve got to have the vaccines,” Inslee said. “That’s the good news. Once we get the vaccine, we’re going to accelerate this dramatically.”

About $1 million has also been invested in communication efforts to help establish vaccine credibility in communities and improve vaccination rates.

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