Washington's approach to reopening

NCW — Gov. Jay Inslee’s Phase 3 of Washington’s “Healthy Washington” recovery plan will lift restrictions on spectators at outdoor sporting events and increase capacity in indoor public spaces.

Phase 3 will allow 25% fan attendance at outdoor sporting events, including high school sports, motorsports, rodeos and other similar activities, according to a Thursday news release from the governor’s office. It will also allow restaurants, fitness centers, places of worship and other indoor spaces to increase capacity to 50%.

The new rules take effect March 22, with all counties advancing to the third phase of the recovery plan. For youth sports and high school sports, the new provisions will kick in even earlier, on March 18.

The announcement arrives as cases of the coronavirus have been declining in Washington state and COVID-19 vaccinations continue to be distributed.

“The reason we’re able to make this progress today is because we have been safe, we have been diligent, we have been intentional, we have cared about our loved ones and ourselves,” Inslee said during a Thursday news conference.

“But we’ve got to understand, we’re still in a fight,” the governor continued. “We have these variants out there, and this thing could spring back on us again.”

Under Phase 3, up to 400 people can attend indoor and outdoor activities, as long as it does not exceed 50% capacity. Larger venues, mainly sporting arenas in the Seattle area, can have up to 9,000 people or 25% capacity, whichever is less.

The Healthy Washington plan took effect in January and broke Washington into eight regions.

Under that plan, some regions advanced to the second phase in late January and started reopening, resuming indoor dining and fitness centers at 25% capacity. Since then, the other regions have advanced, and every county has moved to that phase and those capacity restrictions.

Groups like the Washington Hospitality Association have urged the governor to allow restaurants to allow 50% capacity.

“We celebrate today’s announcement by the governor that restaurants can open to 50% indoor capacity — this will benefit both the health of our state and of our industry,” said association president and CEO Anthony Anton in a statement Thursday. “Since restaurants have been opened in our state, cases have continued to drop. This is a testament to our rigorous safety standards and practices, which are among the most strict in the nation.”

Inslee’s announcement also includes changes to the overall structure of the plan.

Gone are the regions, and the new shift brings back a county-by-county approach to lifting or reapplying restrictions, with counties being evaluated every three weeks. The first evaluation is set for April 12.

Phase 3 will have different metrics and criteria than Phase 2 and Phase 1. All counties will start in Phase 3 and be measured individually every three weeks against two metrics. If a county fail one of the metrics, it will move back to Phase 2; the same is true for counties in Phase 2 — they will move back to Phase 1.

The metrics to remain in Phase 3 are:

  • A COVID-19 rate of less than 200 per 100,000 population over 14 days;
  • Fewer than five people hospitalized with COVID-19 per 100,000 person population over seven days.

The metrics to remain in Phase 2 are:

  • A COVID-19 rate between 200 and 350 per 100,000 person population over 14 days;
  • Between 5 and 9.9 people hospitalized with COVID-19 per 100,000 people over seven days.

If at any point the statewide intensive care unit capacity is more than 90% full, all counties will revert to Phase 1, the release states. The state Department of Health maintains the ability to move any county forward or backward depending on disease activity.

Both Douglas and Chelan counties would qualify for Phase 3 based on data measured Thursday. Chelan County has a COVID-19 rate of 104.9 per 100,000 people over a two-week period and Douglas County’s rate is 154.3, according to Chelan-Douglas Health District data.

Both counties together have three people hospitalized at Central Washington Hospital, according to the data. Both counties together could have as many as six people at the hospital and continue to meet state criteria.

Reporting by The Seattle Times is included in this story.

Tony Buhr: 664-7123

buhr@wenatcheeworld.com or

on Twitter @TonyBuhr

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