Washington is officially reopening today. After some 15 months of frequently changing restrictions on businesses and personal interactions, Independence Day is arriving a few days early for residents of the state.
The gist of all this? Limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings will be lifted. Restaurants, retail outlets, churches and other places where people congregate can go from 50 percent to maximum capacity. And, basically, life will appear to have some sense of pre-pandemic normalcy.
Of course, not all will be normal. The COVID-19 pandemic is still with us, and the state recently has recorded between 400 and 700 infections a week. In addition, nearly 6,000 deaths in Washington have been attributed to coronavirus since the outbreak began in March 2020, and a reopened economy cannot replace that loss.
As a reminder: Businesses retain the ability to set their own guidelines to protect the health of customers and employees. If a worker asks you to don a mask, don’t argue; it is not a violation of your rights, and you should either comply or leave.
Yet while the virus continues to linger, vaccines have sharply reduced its spread, making today a turning point in our long battle against the disease. As Gov. Jay Inslee said during a visit to Vancouver this month: “We all knew that we were going to open on June 30. We are very close, we are just on the second-yard line.”
Meanwhile, Oregon also is lifting restrictions today, citing the number of vaccinated people in the state. Gov. Kate Brown said Friday: “It is because of this success that we can move Oregon forward, and into the next chapter of this pandemic. We are ready.”
So are residents in both states. The pandemic has led to unprecedented limits on activity and has altered how we go about our daily lives. It also has created disturbing discord while highlighting philosophical differences that quickly turned political.
The good news is that a strict response to the virus has prevented what was the initial concern — that the health care system would be overrun, as had happened in several other countries. Washington was the first state to identify a coronavirus case and a coronavirus death, and Inslee was quick to act by shutting down businesses and schools.
As The Columbian wrote editorially at the time: “The conundrum is that there will be no telling whether Inslee has made a wise decision. The infection will continue to spread, probably for months; when it finally slows, there will be no way of assessing whether that spread could have been more effectively limited. But failure could be obvious if the virus spreads unabated.”
That spread has continued for well over a year, but it has not run rampant. And there still is no way of telling what was the optimum response. Debate will continue, as will discussion about a governor’s power to unilaterally issue and reissue emergency orders. Legislators should work next year to strengthen the checks and balances in state government.
But for now we can celebrate a milestone in the saga of the coronavirus while again urging all to be vaccinated against the disease. As of Monday, 68.2 percent of Washington residents 16 and older have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine; in Clark County, the rate is 59.8 percent. Notably, state officials say that about 98 percent of people recently hospitalized with coronavirus were unvaccinated — demonstrating the effectiveness of vaccines.
Yes, work remains to fully defeat the virus. But steady progress means that, starting today, Washington is open.