LIMITED RECREATION TEES OFF

LIMITED RECREATION TEES OFF — Wapato High School Physical Education teacher Mark Villegas rips a drive at Black Rock Golf Course on Tuesday morning, April 5.

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee signed the state’s “Safe Start” plan which is a phased approach to re-opening Washington’s economy and issued a new extension which amends some components of the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order on Monday, May 4 through the end of the month.

Inslee announced state officials have started the careful phased, science and data driven process to reopen the economy while remaining steadfast in protecting the health of Washingtonians in a press conference last Friday.

“We Washingtonians have to realize that we haven’t won this fight against this virus,” Inslee said, restating that Safe Start allows for adjustments of business closures and physical distancing measures while trying to minimize the health impacts of COVID-19. “We will have to continue to monitor and assess the data on a daily basis and adept as conditions allow.”

The governor authorized partial reopening of certain recreational activities. Day use will be allowed at state parks, state recreational fisheries, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recreational lands, starting Tuesday, May 5.

“From the very get go, I could see absolutely no reason why the governor had to close public lands,” Don Young, retired Sunnyside rancher stated, while looking forward to saddling up with the Washington Backcountry Horsemen for a Thursday ride. “In one letter I wrote, I told Inslee, I couldn’t guarantee that I wouldn’t kiss any of his wild animals and give them the virus, especially his wolves.”

The WDFW has opened recreational fishing and shell fishing, hunting, boating and hiking statewide. Playing golf is now allowed.

People are still required to follow physical distance requirements and limit activities to only people within their immediate household.

“We’re ready. We’ve been waiting over a good month at least,” Wapato High School Physical Education teacher Mark Villegas acknowledged while warming up on the putting green with Erik Martinez at Black Rock Golf Course Tuesday morning.

The two-some were the first golfers to tee off as limited recreational activities commenced. “The course is in great shape and you can see that,” the 28-year veteran teacher pointed out after spending a lot of time performing yard work and chores around the house.

Villegas has been sending out and conducting P.E. assignments online with students and attending virtual meetings while administering distance learning instruction at home. “I’m going stir crazy inside.”

The plan calls for initiating phase one types of businesses ideally beginning to reopen in mid-May. Those businesses include retail stores, who can offer curbside pickup. Automobile sales and car washes would reopen, with some restrictions. Inslee also intends to allow drive-in spiritual services with one household per vehicle.

Each phase is expected to take at least three weeks, which should be long enough for officials to see if the approach is working, the governor noted. During the press conference, he did not provide any dates for each phase and remains unyielding about moving to a new phase until it is responsible to do so.

The second phase would allow for the opening of remaining manufacturing companies, new building construction and real estate. Professional services and office-based businesses, in-home and domestic facilities, hair salons and barbershops, some in-store retail purchases, and restaurants to 50% capacity and tables of no more than five people would be permitted to resume operations.

This phase also plans to grant additional outdoor and social activities to restart, such as camping and gatherings of five or fewer people.

A third phase authorizes outdoor gatherings and sports activities of more than 50 people, public recreational facilities to operate at 50% capacity, along with the resumption of non-essential travel, while easing limited phase one and two restrictions.

The fourth phase renews large public assemblies like concert venues and sporting events with physical distancing and good hygiene requirements still in place.

The governor cited the recently launched dashboard of risk-assessment metrics, which will be used to guide how and when he decides to reopen parts of the economy. These dials will be updated weekly for the public to view the state’s progress and can be viewed online; https://coronavirus.wa.gov/what-you-need-know/covid-19-risk-assessment-dashboard.

Inslee has not given specific numbers he is looking for prior to easing restrictions, except for a combination of favorable numbers across the data.

“We are not wrestling with whether to lean toward the economy or public health, they are one. They’re mutually dependent,” Inslee advised, acknowledging COVID-19 has killed more Americans than all of the U.S. soldiers lost in over eight years of combat during the Vietnam War.

As of 11:59 p.m. on Saturday, May 2, there were 15,185 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Washington state, an increase of 182 cases in the last 24 hours. Yakima County Health District reported a total of 1,440 confirmed cases with 29 new cases as of Monday, May 4.

The state’s economy has been hard hit by the pandemic, as thousands of businesses closed under the quarantine orders and more than one in five workers have filed for unemployment.

New claims for unemployment benefits have increased as more individuals become eligible. Initial claims for regular unemployment benefits climbed by 67% for the week of April 19-25, and total initial claims soared by 453% over the previous week.

This was the first week that initial claims could be filed by individuals such as self-employed workers and independent contractors, and the first week that initial claims for extended benefits could be filed.

"Our state's staggering unemployment numbers depict just how devastating the current situation is for Washington families,” Rep. Dan Newhouse communicated in response to Inslee’s Stay-At-Home extension. “While I was grateful for the Governor's strong approach in the early days of our response, it has become clear that the small steps he has recently taken on adapting his order are nowhere near enough for the people of Washington.”

Elizabeth Sustaita can be contacted at 509-837-4500, ext. 114 or email esustaita@sunnysidesun.com.

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