Not long after indoor dining came back to Seattle, Washington’s reopening continues. On Thursday, February 11, Gov. Jay Inlsee announced that most of the state has qualified to enter phase 2 of the “Healthy Washington” plan, which means many more restaurants and bars can resume indoor dining at 25 capacity, starting Monday. King County and the Puget Sound region have already been in phase 2 for the past two weeks, and will remain there, based on current COVID metrics.
Inslee initially left one area of the state behind, the South Central region, composing of Benton, Benton, Columbia, Franklin, Kittitas, Walla Walla, and Yakima counties. But it now looks like, after a hospital reporting error, that region is advancing to phase 2 as well, meaning all of Washington state’s restaurants are allowed to reopen.
Even though the new announcement has more impact on the rest of the state, it seems to be an encouraging sign that the Puget Sound region did not move backwards, despite the presence of more contagious new COVID variants and increased economic activity.
In January, as one might remember, Inslee changed the requirements for reopening. 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 met the new requirements two weeks ago, and restaurants promptly resumed indoor dining in Seattle. But until this point, Puget Sound was only one of two regions in the state to reopen in phase 2. Now, all regions are moving forward.
In his February 11 press conference, Inslee touted good news on the COVID front, with case counts going down significantly over the past two weeks in Washington (there were under 700 reported a day in a recent count, after a mid-January average approached 2,000).
But the decision doesn’t come without some serious questions. Despite the hazard of being in enclosed spaces with customers who must take off their masks to eat, restaurant workers below the age of 65 are still not in any of the state’s high-priority tiers to receive the COVID vaccine, and may not be eligible for months.
On Thursday, Inslee said that, given the current vaccine supply available in the state, it’s not viable at this point to inoculate a broader range of people — including younger service workers — without making sure that all people over the age of 65 receive the vaccine first, along with frontline health workers. He anticipates more dosages will be available soon, though, and hopes that progress will accelerate in the coming weeks. When asked what he would tell service workers who are unsure about when they will receive the vaccine, Inslee said, “Hang in there, help is on the way .... we will get to you.”
For those who feel that the state is moving too quickly in its reopening plan (including many Eater Seattle readers), Inslee noted that the plan in place automatically moves regions backwards to phase 1 if COVID activity increases to a certain point, with data analyzed every two weeks. And the governor emphasized that, even if things are trending in the right direction now, Washington is ready to react quickly. “The science tells us we are driving this pandemic down quite dramatically,” said Inslee. “But we also realize there is potential risk out there. That’s why we built in a failsafe measure.”
UPDATED, 12:22 p.m., February 15: This article was updated with info regarding the South Central region advancing to phase 2.