OLYMPIA — Washington state’s new covid-19 reopening plan went into effect this week. It is a notable departure from the plan that the state used last summer and fall.
The new plan, announced by Gov. Jay Inslee on Jan. 6, calls for a regional reopening effort, rather than the county-by-county approach that was previously used. The state has been locked down since November, when new cases, hospitalizations and deaths soared to pandemic highs.
For this plan, Washington’s 39 counties are divided up into eight separate regions, mostly based on EMS regions used for evaluating healthcare services. Pacific County is part of the West region, along with Grays Harbor, Lewis and Thurston counties.
The new plan received some criticism by officials in both north and south county. Long Beach Mayor Jerry Phillips said he was “a little concerned” about the shift from a county-by-county to regional reopening plan, and South Bend Mayor Julie Struck said she “wasn’t happy” to be in the same region as Thurston County, which has a population 10 times greater than Pacific County.
At a news conference last Wednesday, Inslee said the new plan doesn’t move the state forward “in a big way,” but is a needed step that “takes us in the right direction.”
According to the guidance, a region’s phase is determined by four Washington State Department of Health metrics. The department will review the data each Friday to determine whether a region can move forward the next Monday. Unlike the plan used during the summer and fall, regions do not need to apply to advance to a new phase.
To advance from Phase 1 to Phase 2 of the plan, a region must meet each of the four metrics:
• Have a decreasing trend of at least 10% in the two-week rate of covid-19 cases per 100,000 people;
• Have a decreasing trend of at least 10% in the two week rate of new covid-19 hospital admission rates per 100,000 people;
• Have a total ICU occupancy rate — which includes both covid and non-covid patients — of less than 90%;
• Have a covid-19 test positivity rate of less than 10%.
The state Department of Health announced that all regions would begin in Phase 1 of the plan on Jan. 8, as no region had met all four of the aforementioned metrics. The West region had just a 1% decrease of new covid-19 cases (the smallest decrease of any of the regions); had a 3% increase of new covid-19 hospital admissions; and had a covid-19 test positivity rate of 10%. The only metric the region met is having a total ICU occupancy rate of 86%.
Phase 1 prohibits indoor dining and indoor social gatherings, and puts a 25% indoor capacity limit on grocery and retail stores, personal services and religious gatherings. Outdoor social gatherings are limited to a maximum of 10 people from outside households, and limited to two households, and outdoor dining is limited to a maximum of six people per table, limited to two households per table.
Phase 2 allows for indoor dining to be open at a 25% capacity, as well as indoor social gatherings with a maximum of five people from two different households. Retail stores, personal services and religious gatherings remain capped at 25% of indoor capacity. Indoor recreation — such as gyms and fitness centers — is also capped at 25%, as are indoor entertainment venues such as theaters, museums, casinos and bowling alleys.