On Friday, April 9, Gov. Jay Inslee made some important changes to the requirements for staying in phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan. In order to maintain the status quo, keeping restaurant dining rooms open at 50 percent capacity, counties need to be below just one COVID threshold, not two. Inslee also clarified some rules regarding spectator events to make clear what is allowed for counties and how such activities are related to school graduation ceremonies.
The Washington Department of Health (DOH) will still assess all the state’s data on Monday, April 12, to determine if counties must reinstate restrictions and go back to phase 2. But the goal posts have moved a bit. In 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. Previously, the county would have had to meet both criteria to stay in phase 3. Now it’s either one, meaning it’s a little less likely that Seattle will be bumped back to phase 2, reducing indoor dining to 25 percent.
The Seattle area still meets both thresholds, but COVID numbers continue to creep up, and officials have warned of a possible fourth wave. King County health officer Dr. Jeffrey Duchin has pinpointed the presence of more contagious variants and higher transmission among young people for the recent surge, warning that residents must continue taking COVID-related precautions, such as mask wearing and social distancing. The vaccination effort has been accelerating, and everyone 16 and older will be eligible to receive a shot starting April 15, but the rise in COVID cases still concerns local authorities.
The new rule tweaks also mark somewhat of a change in tactic from what Inslee described just a day before. During his press conference Thursday, April 8, the governor insisted he wouldn’t be changing the metrics for reopening phases as they were currently constituted, and emphasized that it was the “virus” making the decision on reimposing certain restrictions, not the state’s politicians. He noted that Washington was making good progress on vaccinating those most vulnerable to severe disease (1 out of every 5 adults are fully incolulated), but expressed doubt on whether it was wise to change the current course. The quick changes perhaps hint that the state’s plan will be more flexible going forward, if the vaccination effort continues to speed up.