OLYMPIA – The Seattle Mariners will have real fans on opening day, restrictions on other outdoor sporting events will lift, and Washington’s 39 boroughs will soon move into a new third phase of Governor Jay Inslee’s COVID-19 reopening plan.
Inslee’s Thursday announcement of changes to its reopening plan for Healthy Washington will allow restaurants, retailers, fitness centers, and other indoor spaces to open at up to 50% capacity. The changes, most of which will go into effect March 22nd, will take effect nationwide.
“The reason we are able to make this progress today is because we have been safe, have been hardworking, have been deliberate, taken care of our loved ones and ourselves,” Inslee said during the press conference.
“But we have to understand, we are still in a fight,” continued the governor. “We have these variants out there and this thing could fall back on us.”
The announcement comes as Washington state cases of coronavirus have declined and COVID-19 vaccinations continue to be distributed.
The stepped-up adoption of the vaccine also prompted Inslee to announce that the state was accelerating vaccination approval plans for people in Stage 2 of Phase 1B by a week. This group includes law enforcement agencies, corrections workers and firefighters, as well as workers in public transportation, grocery stores, agriculture and food processing. You can be vaccinated from March 17th.
According to Lacy Fehrenbach, an assistant secretary for the Ministry of Health, 18% of citizens had received at least one dose of vaccine by Thursday. Around 10% of Washington residents have been fully vaccinated.
In a statement, two Republican state senators praised Inslees ‘move and pointed to a plan they released last week that would have instantly increased restaurant, gym and other venues’ occupancy to 50% capacity.
“I appreciate that the governor has incorporated many of the details of our ‘Open Safe, Open Now’ plan for transitioning to Phase 3 into the plan announced today,” said Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, in prepared remarks and later added, “I wish he had worked with us more directly as working together will make us fully recover. But I am very encouraged. “
Governor Jay Inslee will host a press conference today at 2:30 p.m. to discuss the 2021 legislature and the state’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the new phase, outdoor events in facilities with permanent seating can be up to 25% capacity, requiring masks and spacing. This not only allows spectators to watch Mariners games, but also games for the Sounders, Reign and other teams. It also includes college sports, rodeos, motorsports, and other outdoor events.
For youth sports and university sports, the new regulations will come into force even earlier on March 18.
In the third phase, the occupancy of indoor rooms in restaurants and fitness studios will also be increased to 50%. According to the new plan, alcohol service can be allowed until midnight one hour later than currently.
The governor’s office will be issuing more specific guidelines for specific industries in the coming days.
The Healthy Washington Plan went into effect in January and divided Washington into eight regions.
As part of that plan, some regions – including those made up of Counties King, Pierce and Snohomish – moved into phase two in late January and began reopening, with indoor dining and fitness centers resuming at 25% capacity. Since then, the other regions have advanced and every county has moved into this phase and these capacity constraints.
Groups like the Washington Hospitality Association have urged the governor to allow restaurants to have 50% capacity.
“We celebrate today’s announcement by the governor that restaurants will be open 50% indoors – this will benefit the health of our state as well as our industry,” said Anthony Anton, president and CEO of the association, in a statement Thursday . “Since restaurants opened in our state, cases have continued to decline. This is testament to our strict safety standards and practices, which are among the strictest in the nation. “
Inslee’s announcement also includes changes to the overall structure of the plan.
Gone are the regions and the new postponement brings back a nationwide approach to lifting or reapplying restrictions, with counties being assessed every three weeks. The first evaluation is scheduled for April 12th.
Larger counties need to hit a set of benchmarks for two public health metrics that will determine whether they are moving forward. For each of the three phases of the plan, thresholds will be set for both new cases per 100,000 people over 14 days and new COVID-19 hospital stays per seven days.
For a large county to stay in phase three, for example, it has to have fewer than 200 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants over two weeks. A rate of more than 350 new cases during this time would send it back to the first and most restrictive phase.
Counties with a population of 50,000 or less – such as the San Juan, Pacific, or Okanogan counties – are rated based on the number of new COVID-19 cases over two weeks and new hospitalizations over seven days.
For example, a small county will stay in the third phase if it has fewer than 30 new cases in two weeks. But with more than 60 new cases in that time, it would go back to phase one.
If at any point the capacity of the state intensive care unit reaches 90% or more, all districts will revert to the first phase, which bans indoor eating and closes gyms and entertainment events, among other things.
Seattle Times food writer Tan Vinh contributed to this report.