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Inslee hopes masks, social distancing can prevent COVID-19 backsliding

Gov. Jay Inslee wants to use new strategies to fight the pandemic so Washington doesn't have to go into another lockdown.

SEATTLE — As coronavirus activity rises across Washington state, Gov. Jay Inslee signaled Tuesday he did not want to close Washington’s economy again saying the state would use other strategies to fight COVID-19.

Inslee said the state planned to rely on mask use, social distancing and contact tracing to keep the virus from spreading out of control.

“What has changed is we now have an ability hopefully to have the best of both worlds, to reopen our businesses at the right pace and wear masks to succeed in keeping this virus from overwhelming our hospitals,” Inslee said.

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Inslee said he’s been pleased with how quickly people statewide have adopted masks. He pointed to Selah outside Yakima, where Inslee said the percentage of people wearing masks has increased from 25% to near 90% over the last month.

Over the last week, new COVID-19 cases dropped in Yakima County, which Inslee said possibly showed wearing masks leads to fewer cases.

However, Inslee also warned if people don’t wear masks and the rate of positive tests and hospitalizations continues to increase, Washington may need to move backwards.

“We are concerned that could be in our near future if we don’t increase our performance here,” Inslee said. “That’s just a reality.”

From June 17-30, there were 95.4 new cases per 100,000 people statewide, according to state data. The rate was slightly lower in the Puget Sound region – King, Pierce and Snohomish counties had 62.6 new cases per 100,000 people – but still well above the state goal of under 25.

The rate of new cases has steadily increased since counties moved out of Phase 1.

Dr. Kathy Lofy, state health officer, said the “dramatic” increase in cases was just one concerning trend she saw. Statewide hospital capacity has remained well below goal thresholds, but Lofy worried that could change.

“If COVID-19 activity continues to increase throughout Washington throughout the summer months, our hospitals could be full of COVID-19 patients moving into the fall, which could position us very poorly for the start of the school year and the anticipated fall wave,” Lofy said.

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However, Lofy said the outcome of the virus is largely dependent on individual behavior, which makes it difficult for modelers to accurate forecast more than two weeks out. Both Lofy and Inslee urged people to mask up and practice social distancing to avert a potential crisis later on.

“We believe there is a reasonable opportunity for us to succeed in this endeavor if people simply adhere to our rules,” Inslee said.