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Of Phase 2, schools and vaccines: What's happening at the state Capitol this week

Capitol dome in Olympia in January 2020.
Parker Miles Blohm
Capitol dome in Olympia in January 2020.

This is the first week that every region in Washington is in Phase 2 of the state's COVID recovery plan. Olympia correspondent Austin Jenkins joined KNKX Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick live Tuesday morning to talk about the latest in the state's pandemic response as well as what's happening in the Legislature this week.

Kirsten Kendrick: Austin, amid the snow over the holiday weekend, all the regions of the state also moved into Phase 2.

Austin Jenkins: Yes, they did, and it probably made it hard for people to take advantage of some of the advantages of Phase 2, which would be perhaps coming back to your favorite restaurant for a meal. So, yes, all eight regions of the state are now in Phase 2, which means restaurants can begin to resume indoor dining at 25 percent. Gyms, movie theaters, bowling alleys and museums can also start to reopen. And private social gatherings at your home are once again allowed with up to five people from no more than two households. Now, this advancement to Phase 2 is happening because all regions were able to meet three, at least three of four metrics, like declining case counts and declining COVID hospitalizations. There was a development over the weekend, and that was that the south-central region, which includes Kittitas, Yakima and Benton and Franklin counties, Kirsten, had been the one region that wasn't going to advance to Phase 2 as of last week or late last week. But then over the weekend, the Department of Health announced that a hospital in Walla Walla County had been incorrectly reporting COVID hospital admission data. Once they fixed that, then that region also qualified to move ahead and did so as of Sunday. So the question now is, can these regions remain in Phase 2? The next reassessment will be on February 25th.

KK: That's right. And we are also expecting to hear from Governor Jay Inslee and other state officials later today, Austin, outlining perhaps the next phase of the state's pandemic response.

AJ: Right. We don't have a lot of details yet, but we do know that the governor will be talking about a return to in-person learning and a school testing program. He's expected to be joined by the superintendent of the Enumclaw School District and a representative of the Health Commons Project, which has been working to deliver COVID testing where it's most needed by setting up public access test sites. And the governor and the state school superintendent have been pushing for schools to resume in-person learning in those hybrid models where, you know, students are back in the building for a couple of days a week at least. The state superintendent is requiring districts to submit updated reopening plans by March 1st in order to receive the federal relief money that the Legislature just appropriated. So there's a lot of pressure on districts right now, those that haven't already to get students back in the buildings. And they're, at the same time, there's has been some pushback from educators as well as demands to make K-12 employees eligible for vaccines more quickly. So, yes, I expect we'll hear something more about at least a testing regime to go with continued reopenings.

KK: That's right. And regarding the COVID vaccine, state health officials say they will be focusing this week on administering second doses. That means appointments to get a first dose, at least for this week, will be limited.

AJ: Right. We are kind of in a weird holding pattern, it sounds like, because the Department of Health says that providers requested about 170,000 second doses for this coming week, which is significantly higher than the state's allocation of about 92,000 second doses. So they're going to have to use some first doses as second doses. And that means, according to the Department of Health, at first-dose appointments will be extremely limited this week. It didn't help that there was also a delay in delivery because of the bad weather nationally. They're hoping this is just a one-week issue and that the focus can revert to getting people first doses starting next week. But what this, you know, once again highlights is that there's still a real mismatch between vaccine supply and demand. I will note that the state did pass a notable milestone last week of a million doses delivered into people's arms. The state’s averaging about 26,000 doses a day towards the governor's goal of 45,000 doses a day.

KK: You mentioned earlier, Austin, that a COVID relief bill has made it to the governor's desk. But there are other big issues on the agenda this week as the legislative session continues.

AJ: Right. The governor is expected to sign that $2.2 billion relief bill as early as this week. Today, the Senate Ways and Means Committee is scheduled to take executive action on the governor's proposed 9 percent capital gains tax. Also today, House Republicans will unveil their budget framework. This comes after Senate Republicans did the same thing last week. This is the minority party articulating a set of budget principles, even though it's going to be Democrats who are in the majority who will actually write the budgets. Also, yesterday was the cutoff deadline for policy bills to clear out of their committee of origin. Next Monday's the deadline for fiscal bills to make it out of fiscal committees. And then we start to see a lot of floor action in the House and Senate. By the way, next Monday is Day 43; we will be about 40 percent of the way through 105-day session.

KK: All right, Austin. Thanks so much.

AJ: You're welcome.

Kirsten Kendrick hosts Morning Edition on KNKX and the sports interview series "Going Deep," talking with folks tied to sports in our region about what drives them — as professionals and people.