On Thursday, January 28, Gov. Jay Inslee announced some significant modifications to the state’s “Healthy Washington” plan — and it means that Seattle restaurants can reopen for indoor dining at 25 percent starting Monday, February 1, and remain open through at least February 15. The reason is that instead of having to reach four COVID-related benchmarks to allow indoor dining at 25 percent capacity, Washington regions now only have to hit three out of the four. The Puget Sound region — which includes King County — has met the new requirements. It is only one of two regions in the state to do so.
The whole state entered phase one of Inslee’s new “Healthy Washington” plan January 11, with all dining rooms closed and counties grouped into eight regions. Previously, in order to advance to phase two and reopen dining rooms, regions needed to see a 10 percent decrease in COVID cases over a 14 day period; a 10 percent decrease in hospital admission rates; ICU occupancy below 90 percent; and overall COVID test positivity below 10 percent. No regions had met all four benchmarks and advanced before Thursday, though.
As part of the complex outdoor and “open air” seating guidelines, heavily-ventilated indoor dining is already allowed at 25 percent. But any establishment that wanted to try this had to use a CO2 monitor to track air flow in the dining room. Now, it appears, there’s no more need for that. Bars still need to serve a full food menu to open indoor dining, though.
Inslee sounded upbeat about recent COVID developments, noting that the vaccination effort is getting smoother and hospitalizations are easing up. But pressure had also increased in recent weeks to recalibrate the stalled reopening plan. Several state lawmakers introduced Senate Bill 5114 on January 20 which, if passed, would reopen all businesses at 25 percent capacity immediately in all regions, no matter what the numbers are. That bill — which has the support of two Democratic senators — is unlikely to pass, but it opened up a heated discussion about the economic impacts on current restrictions.
By relaxing the requirements to advance, Inslee may put efforts to overrule his mandates at bay for now and also simplify things a bit for restaurants, whether they were confused about the “open air” guidelines or went to great lengths to add some tables inside with CO2 monitoring.
Once the Puget Sound officially advances to phase two, the numbers will still be assessed regularly — only now the data will be reviewed biweekly, instead of weekly, to give businesses a little bit more time to make necessary adjustments. If COVID cases rise again — always a danger given the presence of more contagious new variants — Inslee warned of a possible backslide, where dining rooms would have to shut back down.
In the meantime, Washingtonians will continue to keep a close eye on the increased pace of vaccinations, which is the most likely path to a wider reopening down the line. All state residents 65 and older are eligible to receive the shot, along with essential frontline health workers and those in long-term care facilities: Inslee recently set a goal of inoculating 45,000 people per day. Restaurant workers, however, may still have to wait awhile before they are next in line.
“In the days to come, we still have to be really careful,” Inslee said.