As anticipated, Gov. Jay Inslee announced the status of all the state’s counties in the “Healthy Washington” reopening process on Monday, April 12. Despite the steady rise in COVID cases over the past several weeks, King County will remain in phase 3, which means Seattle restaurants and bars are allowed to stay open at 50 percent capacity indoors. But neighboring Pierce County, along with Whitman and Cowlitz, must tighten restrictions again as they backslide to phase 2, the only three out of Washington’s 39 counties to do so. The data will be evaluated again in three weeks.
Those in the hospitality industry no doubt have been keeping a close watch on the COVID numbers. Per the recently announced adjustments to the state’s reopening plan, in larger regions like King County, COVID cases must stay below 200 per 100,000 people over the previous two-week period, or hospitalizations must be below 5 per 100,000 people over the previous week in order to stay in phase 3. That’s a significant change from before, when counties had to stay below both thresholds in order to avoid a backslide (for what it’s worth, it looks like King County kept below each metric anyway as of April 12, even if just barely).
Maintaining the status quo in Seattle may be good news for restaurants that were worried about reinstating more restrictions, but increased COVID transmission continues to worry the state’s health authorities. The fact that three counties, including one within a short drive to Seattle, had to roll back to the previous phase serves as a reminder that the pandemic is far from over, particularly with the presence of more contagious new variants.
The accelerated vaccination effort may help mitigate the impacts of a potential fourth COVID wave, though, and there have been encouraging developments on that front. The clinic at Lumen Field recently inoculated a record number of people in a single week, and starting Thursday, April 15, all Washingtonians 16 and older will be eligible to receive a shot.
In the meantime, local officials continue to urge caution. “While King County remains in Phase 3 of reopening, cases are still dangerously high,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan tweeted Monday. “Even as more people are vaccinated & eligibility opens to all residents, we all still need to follow the basics: wear masks, stay distant, get tested & avoid crowds.”