In a press conference Thursday, April 8, Gov. Jay Inslee addressed some of the concerns over rising COVID cases in Washington, and the possibility that certain counties may have to reinstate restrictions on indoor dining from 50 percent to 25 percent capacity. He said the metrics will determine any decisions, and that the plan is really on “auto pilot.” When asked about setting a future date to possibly reopen the economy fully, like Gov. Gavin Newson recently did for California, Inslee said such a decision is not under consideration at the moment. “Everything you would do right now would come with such a big a ‘if’ that it would be of marginal utility to people,” he noted.
The governor also said he’s not considering altering the metrics that determine whether or not counties must move back from phase 3 to phase 2. In order to maintain the status quo, COVID cases in larger counties like King County must stay below 200 per 100,000 people over the previous two-week period, and hospitalizations below 5 per 100,000 people over the previous week (the metrics are slightly different for smaller counties). The Washington Department of Health (DOH) will assess the data on Monday, April 12 and, if counties have to take a step back, all changes will go into effect Friday. Right now, King County still meets the two thresholds, but the COVID numbers continue to creep up and it’s possible that by Monday, Seattle restaurants will have to plan for a reduction in capacity.
In his Thursday press conference, Inslee repeatedly insisted that it’s out of his hands whether or not a county must reinstate restrictions — it’s rather “the virus” that makes such a decision, he said, citing exponential COVID increase in states such as Michigan, which he is trying to avoid. But earlier this year, the governor’s office and the DOH did change the various goal posts for determining advancement in the reopening plan. At the beginning of 2021, in order to 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. But those metrics quickly changed to the current two metrics, and restaurants began to reopen shortly thereafter in February.
Inslee said on Thursday that the presence of more contagious new variants and people possibly letting down their guard too much have led to a spike in cases of late. He sounded a note of hope, though, for an accelerated vaccination effort across the state: 3.8 million Washingtonians have received at least one dose, and about 1 in 5 adults are fully vaccinated (all those 16 and older will be eligible to receive the vaccine starting April 15).
But the continued uncertainty over variants and a rise in cases have tempered the celebration over vaccines thus far, and local restaurants will need to watch the numbers closely to determine what will come next. “Business owners have been going up and down on these changing rules, that’s really traumatic for them, we understand that,” Inslee said. “But we cannot allow ourself to go the route of one these other states that have had these explosion of cases.”