Rep. Joe Schmick | Let’s move to Phase 3 for the benefit of all Washingtonians
It's been more than two months since Gov. Jay Inslee announced his “Healthy Washington – Roadmap to Recovery” plan on January 5. While I am grateful that all of Washington is now in Phase 2 of that plan, when asked repeatedly about what the Phase 3 reopening of our state economy looks like – parameters and definitions – the governor has repeatedly come up empty. Until he held a press conference on Thursday, March 11 (more on that in a moment).
Within this vacuum of leadership, and with data showing hospitalizations declining while vaccinations are increasing, I joined my House and Senate Republican colleagues in bringing forth our “Open Safe, Open Now” plan.
Our plan is a simple, practical and consistent plan that respects local control and trusts the people of Washington to do what is right for their health and safety. Our lives are different now. We all know how to wear masks, wash our hands frequently, practice social distancing, and take better care of our overall health. We trust citizens to continue in these efforts.
Our Phase 3 plan focuses on returning students to the classroom and getting people back to work.
The side effects of student isolation and not being in the classroom, from both a mental health aspect as well as an educational one, are not good. We know our kids learn better at school fulltime. And we know – from scientific research – that they are not in danger of mass spreading of COVID while at school.
Our plan would immediately return all students K-12 to the classroom for in-person instruction. School districts would implement safety protocols provided by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and distancing would be reduced from six feet to three in accordance with the latest research.
Our plan recognizes the immediate need to allow our small businesses a chance to break even. At 25% capacity, this is nearly impossible.
Our plan would open hospitality businesses, public venues, restaurants, bars, gyms, movie theaters, libraries and other entertainment venues to 50% capacity. Indoor weddings and other religious services, as well as professional services, would also be allowed to open to 50% capacity. State parks and other state agencies whose function is tourism/recreation would resume bookings for day-use and overnight facilities at 50%.
Under our plan, after a county has operated at Phase 3 for three weeks with no significant spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations, it would move to Phase 4 where all activities return to 100% capacity. If a county health jurisdiction determines its county is not prepared to move to the next phase, county health officials would need to demonstrate why based on trends in case and hospital admission rates, ICU bed capacity, and the virus positivity rate.
This proposal is concise, and data driven. It considers the health, safety, and mental health, along with the economic prosperity, of all Washingtonians.
The bottom line is this. We need to trust the people, empower local control, and instill hope again for the economic future of our state. Our plan accomplishes this.
Now, regarding the governor's recent press conference. I'm glad he's finally announced his plan for Phase 3. Much of it looks familiar as he took many of our suggestions. However, he's delayed his version of Phase 3 until March 22, and we still don't know all the businesses and activities it will apply to. In addition, there are no guidelines for Phase 4 or any realistic expectation for things to return to normal.
While I'm grateful the governor appears to be coming around to the needs of so many Washington workers and small businesses, unless there are clearly defined parameters for the next step, we remain somewhat in the dark.
Washington citizens need to know there is light at the end of this tunnel.
(Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, is the ranking member on the House Health Care and Wellness Committee.)