On Tuesday, January 5, Gov. Jay Inslee announced his new “Healthy Washington” plan, which will reopen aspects of the economy by region, depending on lowered COVID-19 activity. To this point, all indoor dining has been banned until at least January 11, but if a region meets certain guidelines regarding trends in COVID cases and hospital capacity, restaurant dining rooms can open at 25 percent capacity. King County is grouped into the Puget Sound region with neighboring Snohomish and Pierce Counties due to connections within their health care systems.
The keys will be the COVID data — and that’s where things get a bit complicated. All of Washington starts in phase 1 of this plan on January 11, but each of eight regions can advance to phase 2 (with reopened indoor dining) if the area meets all four of the following metrics: there must be a 10 percent decrease in COVID cases over the previous 14 days; a 10 percent decrease in hospital admission rates; ICU occupancy below 90 percent; and overall COVID test positivity below 10 percent. To remain in phase 2, the guidelines won’t be exactly the same, but the region must still show declining or flat trends in COVID cases. Data will be assessed on a weekly basis.
“Health Washington” is just a two-phase plan, but Inslee says more phases may be added or the phases adjusted as conditions change. Right now, the maximum occupancy the governor mentioned for restaurants is 25 percent. There appears to be no pathway to open dining rooms beyond that capacity at the moment, although — just like past reopening plans — the guidelines appear mutable.
It’s also worth noting that a major difference between this plan and the state’s previous reopening efforts earlier in the pandemic is the regional separation (previously, counties would reopen individually). This ties the fate of Seattle restaurants to the COVID cases in Snohomish and Pierce, not just King County. There is also no application process like before — regions can advance to phase 2 automatically once the four criteria are met.
The plan goes into effect January 11, but those expecting restaurants in Seattle to reopen dining rooms shortly after will likely have to wait a little longer. Right now, the Puget Sound region has not met all four metrics, and it’s unclear how long it will take to advance to phase 2, given the high COVID activity in all three counties within the region.