OLYMPIA — Fishing, hunting and golfing can resume on May 5 in Washington, at which time people can also return to state parks and other state lands for day trips, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Monday.
However, Inslee said that if the state sees an uptick in infections of the coronavirus or if people don’t continue to take safety measures while recreating, the activities could once again be restricted. Public gatherings and events, team sports and camping are all still prohibited under the current stay-at-home order that has been in place since March 23.
“This is not a return to normal today, the virus is too rampant to allow that,” Inslee said. “This is only a beginning phase of relaxing our outdoor recreation.”
More than 13,680 people in Washington state have tested positive for the virus and at least 765 have died. The virus causes mild to moderate symptoms in most patients, and the vast majority recover.
But it is highly contagious and can be spread by those who appear healthy and can cause severe illness and death in some patients, particularly the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.
Inslee has expressed caution about fully reopening the state too quickly and has said he will not be able to lift many of the stay-at-home restrictions implemented to fight the coronavirus by May 4 — the date through which the current directive is currently in place. But he has said that the removal of certain restrictions would be phased in based on what statewide health data was showing.
He said Monday that while he can not yet set a date on when the stay-at-home order may be lifted, “we all have to realize that we are a long ways from the end of this virus.”
Inslee said that he is determining what can be opened up safely, and when, based on a variety of data — including hospitalizations, confirmed cases and deaths — and he noted that the data changes every day.
He said that while there have been some modest improvements in those numbers “the models still give us great pause and not enough confidence to throw open the gates to return to all of our normal activities.”
The announcement on the partial reopening of outdoor recreation comes just a few days after Inslee announced a plan that allows the resumption of existing construction projects, as long as strict coronavirus social distancing protocols are in place.
In the case of outdoor recreation, Inslee said that those who are exhibiting signs of illness must stay home, and that people must limit their partners in these activities to those who live within their household. He also said that people must recreate locally and not make overnight trips to other areas. Monday’s announcement does not prevent local governments or national agencies from closing parks, lands or trails in their jurisdictions based on public health needs in those areas, Inslee said.
Joining Inslee at Monday’s press conference remotely were: Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, Director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Kelly Susewind, and Director of Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission Don Hoch.
“I truly believe that reconnecting people with nature is the first step in a long journey back to normalcy,” Franz said. “However, we need to make sure that in reopening our public lands we do not in any way get so lax that we have a return of this problem.”
Franz said that people need to recreate responsibly by bringing hand sanitizer and masks with them, avoiding crowded areas, and practicing social distancing.
Hoch said that while a majority of parks will open on May 5, some may be delayed due to to concerns about potential crowding and impact on communities.
Inslee said that the Golf Alliance of Washington has established several limits, including spacing out of tee times, limits on the number of people golfing together, and requiring take-away food and beverage service in place of sit-down service. No more than two players from separate households can play together, though foursomes are allowed if they are from the same household.