Inslee: Social gatherings for Phase 3 counties to be limited to 10 people

Gov. Jay Inslee laid out new restrictions on social gatherings Thursday in an effort to combat the rising number of Covid-19 cases in the state. 

Inslee announced at a press conference that starting Monday, social gatherings will be limited to 10 people for counties in Phase 3 of the state's phase approach to reopening the economy. Social gatherings in counties under modified Phase 1 or Phase 2 are still limited to no more than five people. 

All live entertainment - both indoor and outdoor - has been suspended statewide. 

The governor said weekly averages of infections have continued to rise. The state is averaging 629 new cases a day, the highest since the pandemic began.

Inslee reiterated that social gatherings - like large barbecues, birthday parties and picnics - are a big factor in the virus' spread and called it a "very disturbing pattern."

"This may be a surprise to people who thought that after we were over the hump we’d be in safe territory. Unfortunately that’s not the case," Inslee said. 

The governor said he doesn't want Washington to end up like Arizona or Texas with large spikes in reported virus cases and deaths. 

He stressed that physical distancing and mask guidelines must be followed to stop the spread. 

"We cannot let our guard down even if we engage in more activities," Inslee said. "If we’re going to reduce movement of people and cut down on face-to-face contact, these are necessary steps we have to take."

The announcement comes just days after Inslee announced that a statewide pause for counties looking to advance from their current stage of economic reopening — already in place for two weeks — will continue though at least July 28.

Phase 3 allows gyms and movie theaters to operate at half capacity and restaurants to increase capacity to 75%. A prohibition on bar seating at restaurants and taverns was added in this phase earlier this month.

Seventeen counties are currently in Phase 2, which allows restaurants and taverns to operate at half capacity with limited table sizes, hair and nail salons and barber shops to resume business, and retail stores to reopen for in-store purchases at 30% capacity. It also allows additional outdoor recreation and gatherings with no more than five people outside of a person’s household.

Five counties — Benton, Chelan, Douglas, Franklin and Yakima — are currently the only counties in a modified Phase 1 of reopening, which allows some additional business activity beyond essential businesses.

Last week, an enhanced statewide order took effect that requires businesses to refuse service to customers who don’t wear facial coverings. That order builds on previous mask requirements issued last month.

Earlier this week, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced a ban on indoor social gatherings of more than 10 people and a requirement that people wear face coverings outside if they can not socially distance. And in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom once again closed bars, inside dining and, for much of the state, gyms, indoor church services and hair and nail salons.

More than 44,000 people have tested positive for the virus in Washington state and about 1,400 have died.

The virus causes mild to moderate symptoms in most patients, and the vast majority recover. But it is highly contagious and can cause severe illness and death in some patients, particularly the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.