Dining indoors will be off-limits in Washington a while longer.
On Dec. 30, Gov. Jay Inslee announced a one-week extension of a ban on indoor service in restaurants and bars and to a host of other statewide restrictions intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Those restrictions, imposed by the governor in November, were to expire Jan. 4, but will now remain in effect through Jan. 11.
His action means that fitness centers, movie theaters, bowling alleys and museums won’t be reopening next week, as hoped. And retail stores, hair salons, barber shops and tattoo parlors must continue to limit the number of customers they serve at any one time.
The governor is working on an updated reopening plan to be released next week, according to a statement from his office.
“Our consistent mission has been keeping Washingtonians safe and ensuring health care system and hospital capacity,” Inslee said in the statement. “We understand the profound impact COVID is having on our health care system, families, and businesses, but I am heartened by the number of Washingtonians who continue to do the right thing.”
Inslee’s announcement came as vaccination efforts across the state were gaining traction.
As of Dec. 30, 56,491 people in Washington had been vaccinated with either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, state health officials said.
Among them are doctors, nurses and other health care workers at high risk of exposure to COVID-19. Also, some first responders and residents and staff of long term care facilities — where the pandemic’s toll has been greatest — have received the first of their two-shot vaccine regimen.
Overall, 356,650 doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been earmarked for delivery to the state, officials said at a Wednesday news conference. That represents allotments through three weeks and includes roughly 102,000 doses due to arrive in the next few days.
Officials said 58,500 doses are designated this week for long term care facilities, and to several tribes and one urban Indian health center. Another 43,375 will be sent to providers at 87 sites in 26 counties, they said.
Under a partnership with the federal government, CVS Pharmacy and Walgreens will begin vaccinations this week in skilled nursing and other long term care facilities across the state. The companies hope to reach every facility with whom they have agreements within three weeks, said Michele Roberts, the state’s acting assistant secretary of health, who is overseeing the COVID vaccine program.
State health officials said they want to get vaccines to more people faster but are encountering impediments — not unexpected for such a massive undertaking.
There is not a predictable schedule for delivery of doses from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That can complicate planning for distribution. On Christmas Eve, for example, the state received a larger than anticipated batch of Moderna doses.
In an effort to prevent waste of vaccine, state health officials are, under certain circumstances, allowing vaccinations of individuals who may not otherwise be eligible in the first round.
If a rural hospital has vaccinated its high risk health care workers and has unused doses, it can begin administering shots to other employees, officials said. Or if a local clinic ends a day with a couple of unused doses, it could vaccinate someone outside the targeted group to avoid wasting good vaccine.
“We don’t want to throw away the last couple doses,” Roberts said.
Meanwhile, Inslee’s decision to extend restrictions another week drew fire from the head of a statewide restaurant group and two state Republican leaders.
“When will main street businesses see a plan from the governor that will pull them back from the brink rather than pushing them over it?” Anthony Anton, president and chief executive officer of the Washington Hospitality Association, said in a statement.
“Hospitality operators are falling deeper in the red, hospitality workers remain out of work, businesses are closing, and household bills are going unpaid,” he said.
State Senate Minority Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, called the restrictions “unwarranted and cruel.”
“The governor says we will get through this together, but he is arbitrarily, without apparent regard for science or data, leaving behind our restaurants and gyms,” Braun said. “Why wait another week? Why punish small businesses that have gone to great expense, at a time when they can least afford it, to comply with safety measures by crushing any hope they have of saving their livelihoods?”
House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, noted that Jan. 11 marks the start of a new legislative session, during which the GOP will push to give hard-hit businesses an assist.
“That day can’t come soon enough. State government continues to focus on how it can shut employers down instead of how it can help them survive,” said Wilcox. “Republicans will have solutions ready to help small businesses and the people who rely on them.”