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Washington GOP lawmakers push for faster state reopening plan

The plan calls for allowing 50% capacity, instead of 25% capacity at Washington restaurants, gyms and movie theaters.

SNOHOMISH COUNTY, Wash. — Washington Republican legislators are making a hard push for the governor to ease COVID-19 restrictions and enter the next phase of re-opening as vaccination rates climb and coronavirus cases stay on a downward slope.

House Republicans introduced their version of a reopening plan last week that wants to ease restrictions at a quicker pace than what the governor has so far allowed. The GOP proposal wants the next phase of reopening, Phase 3, to allow 50% capacity for businesses like restaurants, bars, gyms, movie theaters, museums and libraries. The current phase, outlined by the governor's office, allows for 25% capacity.

Republican state lawmakers took questions from reporters in a Zoom call Wednesday and reiterated their hope to see an updated plan soon, while also pushing for reopening K-12 schools for in-person learning immediately.

"We've gone through so many different iterations of plans that this lack of consistency and ambiguity, really, hurts our small business owners," said Rep. Chris Corry (R-Yakima). "They're trying to do what's right and if you keep changing the rules on them, you make it more difficult for them to operate successfully."

Gov. Jay Inslee, while touring the newly-established mass vaccination site at Lumen Field in Seattle, said plans to allow large-scale gatherings and reopening the state are forthcoming.

"We are having conversations about this on a daily basis. We hope to have, in the relatively near future, some resolution of those issues," Inslee said.

Inslee said the process has been made more difficult with the presence of new variants of the virus, but acknowledged the effectiveness of the vaccine and consistent mask-wearing.

Business owners like Evie De Simone, owner of The New Mexicans restaurant in Everett, is standing by and remains optimistic by the increase in vaccination rates and what appears to be a steady decline in COVID-19 rates in the state.

"We were able to keep our heads above water and not have to dip into our own savings and the PPP helped us out last year, too," she said.

De Simone said she had to lay off half of her staff last March during the onset of the pandemic and worked seven days a week to stay afloat. She has managed to get by while operating at 25% capacity, but wonders when her business can operate fully again.

"We feel like we're in limbo," De Simone said.

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