Seven counties that make up Washington’s West and Puget Sound regions in the Healthy Washington plan will move to Phase 2 of reopening Monday, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday. The move is made possible by a change to the plan that will make it easier for other regions to do the same.
The state made the changes in part based on declining case rates, easing of hospital capacity, and increasing vaccination rates, according to Inslee, along with empathy for businesses struggling under restrictions.
The state’s two-phase “Healthy Washington — Roadmap to Recovery” plan went into effect Jan. 11, and all eight regions of the state had so far remained in Phase 1, with restaurants closed to indoor dining, indoor gatherings banned, and other restrictions in place.
With their move to Phase 2, gyms and restaurants in King, Pierce, Thurston, Grays Harbor, Lewis, Snohomish and Pacific counties will be able to reopen to indoor activity at 25% capacity, among other loosened restrictions.
While residents await their vaccines, Inslee again emphasized the importance of public health precautions such as mask-wearing and social distancing — specifically, he emphasized people need to be careful during the upcoming Super Bowl.
“We have these weapons available today,” Inslee said. “And we’re going to bring the big gun, which is the vaccine, but we’ve gotta use everything we can.”
Changes to the plan
Regions will now need to meet three of the four targets set by the state to advance to Phase 2, Inslee announced Thursday, which allows the West and Puget Sound regions to make that move. The regions were formed largely based on healthcare resources.
Previously, regions had to meet all four. The targets are:
A 10% decline in case rates per 100,000 population over the last 14 days compared to the prior two weeks;
A 10% decline in two-week COVID-19 hospital admission rate per 100,000 population;
Average seven-day intensive care unit (ICU) occupancy rate below 90%; and
A test positivity rate below 10%.
Data shared Thursday shows both the Puget Sound and West regions met the goals for hospital admissions, ICU occupancy, and test positivity. The two regions, together, represent roughly half of the state’s population, Inslee said.
Another change: Rather than evaluating whether regions should move phases on a weekly basis, that will now happen every two weeks. This will provide more predictability and stability, Inslee said.
There is a time lag in some of the data available on the state’s “Roadmap to Recovery” dashboard — case-rate trends were current through Jan. 16 in data updated Thursday, for example, and test positivity data was complete through Jan. 9.
Asked how these biweekly decisions are made when data lags to that extent, Lacy Fehrenbach, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Health, explained the goal is to use the most complete, recent data for each metric.
“It’s really important on each of these metrics that we’re measuring either the seven-day or 14-day period that is most recent for the specific metric,” Fehrenbach said. “These metrics come from different data sources and systems, and those systems have different degrees of timeliness and that results in different time frames. Our goal here is always to be using the data that are the most complete and recent for each of the four metrics.”
If a region in Phase 2 misses any two metrics, it will still slide back to Phase 1. Two trend metrics — case rates and hospital admission rates — can be declining or flat and still be considered meeting those targets, according to previous reporting.
The timeline for possible additional phases of the plan is so far unclear.
Republican lawmakers have recently been intensifying pressure to ease economic restrictions.
More than 1,600 people signed in last week to testify on a bill that would immediately move all regions to Phase 2, with 93% reportedly in favor of the bill, the Tri-City Herald reported. That bill is sponsored by Senate Minority Leader John Braun of Centralia and moderate Democrat Sen. Mark Mullet of Issaquah, among others.
On Wednesday, Republicans made efforts to move that bill forward in the lawmaking process — once in committee and once on the floor of the Senate.
House Minority Leader Rep. J.T. Wilcox of Yelm said via text message that he, Rep. Joe Kretz of Wauconda, and the House Republicans chief of staff met with Inslee and members of his staff mid-morning Wednesday, and that Inslee mentioned there would be some changes, but that no specifics were mentioned. Braun wrote separately that he talked Monday to the governor, who said he was looking at options.
There were no details or timeline offered, Braun wrote, just “recognition that there is a lot of pressure to allow reopening,” adding that he thinks it has become impossible to claim that can’t happen safely.
“We will keep pressure on reopening safely,” he wrote.
Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said at a virtual town hall livestreamed on Facebook Wednesday evening that Inslee would be announcing adjustments to metrics Thursday, as reported by The Seattle Times.
What else changes for Phase 2 counties
Other loosened restrictions in Phase 2 include:
While indoor gatherings are banned under Phase 1, they’re allowed with a maximum of five people from outside your household with a limit of two households under Phase 2;
The maximum number of people allowed for outdoor gatherings grows from 10 to 15;
Wedding receptions and indoor gatherings associated with funerals are permitted in compliance with venue requirements and eating and drinking requirements, but dancing is prohibited;
Outdoor sports competitions are allowed with a maximum of 200 people including spectators, rather than just the practice and training allowed in Phase 1;
Indoor entertainment such as aquariums, theaters, and bowling can have a maximum of 25% capacity or 200 people, whichever is less;
Outdoor entertainment such as zoos and concert venues can host groups of 15 with a limit of two households per group, with a maximum of 200 people including spectators.
Retail store capacity stays at 25% maximum capacity.