Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday a two-phased plan that will eventually allow businesses like restaurants to open back up once the state gets a better handle on the coronavirus pandemic.
The Healthy Washington plan breaks the state into eight regions that are largely tied together by health care systems, and uses metrics to determine when the counties in designated regions can begin to reopen.
“We’re not moving forward in a big way today, but we needed a new plan, and this takes us in the right direction,” Inslee said at a news conference.
Before moving to Phase 2 each region will need to meet four metrics, which include a 10% decreasing trend in case rates during the previous two-week period; a 10% decrease in COVID-19 hospital admission rates during the previous 14 day period; an ICU occupancy rate that’s less than 90%; and a test positivity rate of less than 10%.
All of the regions will begin in Phase 1 on Monday. None of the regions yet meet the criteria to move to Phase 2, but the first phase will allow for the limited resumption of some activities like live entertainment with extremely tight capacity restrictions and some fitness programs.
King, Pierce and Snohomish counties are in the Puget Sound region. The other regions west of the Cascades are the North, West, Southwest and Northwest. The counties east of the mountains fall into the South Central, North Central and East regions.
The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 2,337 new coronavirus cases and 59 new deaths on Tuesday.
The update brings the state’s totals to 258,767 cases and 3,541 deaths, meaning that 1.4% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Monday.
Inslee’s Healthy Washington plan was panned Tuesday by the Washington Hospitality Association (WHA), which advocates for hotels and restaurants in the state.
“Today’s announcement is not a roadmap to recovery,” WHA CEO Anthony Anton wrote in an emailed statement. “It is a roadmap to a near-complete collapse of main street neighborhood restaurants and hospitality businesses.”
The hospitality sector accounted for almost 1-in-8 of jobless claims since March. This spring, during the first big layoffs, the state’s restaurants, bars and hotels lost around 191,000 jobs, and were still down by around 90,000 as of November, before Inslee’s Nov. 15 announcement, according to the Washington Hospitality Association.
Anton contends that restaurants, which have been closed for indoor dining since Nov. 15, isn’t driving the surge in COVID-19 cases. By shutting down restaurants people have been gathering in private residences where people haven’t been complying with the restrictions, he said.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, who recently extended moratoriums for evictions of nonprofits, residential, and small businesses through March 31, commended the state’s new reopening plan.
“Governor Inslee recognizes that we must thoughtfully and safely resume activities,” Durkan said in a statement. “Seattle will continue to work in partnership with the state and county to protect the health and safety of our communities on the road to recovery and reopening and continue to provide relief programs like rental assistance and small business grants.”
The Nov. 15 restrictions were set to end in mid-December and were most recently extended Dec. 30 through Jan. 11.
When Inslee ordered the restrictions in November, the state was dealing with rapidly increasing COVID-19 infections heading into Thanksgiving. Cases of the disease peaked in early December while hospitalizations continued to rise through the end of the year.
The restrictions had bars and restaurants shut down indoor service and limit outdoor service to parties of five or fewer. Indoor gyms and fitness centers, movie theaters, bowling alleys and museums also had to shut down.
Unlike the Safe Start plan that was used to open businesses and counties after Inslee’s stay home order on March 23, there is no application process for the eight regions. Instead, the state Department of Health (DOH) will be examining the data every Friday to determine if a region can move forward on the following Monday.
Once in Phase 2, the regions can stay there as long as it meets at least three of the four metrics used to determine it moving from Phase 1.
“By using multiple metrics, we can increase our confidence in how we’re viewing the situation and really determining is it improving or worsening in a given region,” said Lacy Fehrenbach, DOH assistant secretary of prevention and community health. “The metrics will govern bi-directional movement between these two phases.”
Seattle restaurant veteran Ethan Stowell said he supports using ICU capacity and hospital beds as a metric, but worries that if the state is making weekly decisions, it will cause havoc for managers and workers alike.
He fears a situation where restaurants might be open on Friday, but then “you might find that you’re closed on Monday again” if cases spike.
“And that’s concerning because you’re talking about yo-yoing — employing and laying people off,” Stowell said. “That one’s hard because if we come in on a Friday and find out we’re closed on a Monday … you really got to wonder whether you’re going to bring them back or not.”
The Healthy Washington plan is good for workers because it focuses on public health, but much more needs to be done by the governor and the Legislature to get workers relief, said Sage Wilson, a spokesperson with the advocacy group Working Washington.
“The key consideration in the Governor’s plan is public health — not restaurant revenue or restaurant owners’ political power. That’s good news,” Wilson said. “And we’re pleased to see that the new roadmap reflects the basic reality every restaurant worker knows, indoor dining is not an essential service, and it is simply not safe right now.”
Protests have sprung up across the state in response to the restrictions. On Sunday, a number of restaurants served patrons indoors in what was dubbed a “Day of Defiance.”
Brock’s Bar & Grill in the Cowlitz County town of Woodland was one of the restaurants involved. Owner Polly Merwin told The Seattle Times she needs to remain open for her business to survive.
“We the people have to take a stand. Small business can’t survive,” Merwin said.
The situation for restaurants is difficult and people in the industry are getting “super antsy,” Stowell said. He worries that more will fall out of line.
“There are tons of restaurants not following any rules,” he says. “I think there’s gonna be more of them, which is tough because you know, we’re operators that want to follow all the rules but there’s a lot of operators that just aren’t following the rules. You know, so that gives me, gives me a fair amount of concern.”
Indoor gatherings with people outside your household are prohibited unless participants have quarantined for at least a week and tested negative for the virus. Funerals and weddings are limited at 30 people and receptions following the ceremonies are not allowed.
Long-term care facilities can accept visitors only outdoors, with limited exceptions for end-of-life care and essential support personnel.
The restrictions don’t apply to daycare centers, schools and construction and manufacturing businesses. Grocery and retail stores are capped at 25% of capacity.
Personal services, such as barber shops and salons, are limited to 25% capacity.
Real-estate open houses are prohibited. Youth and adult sports are limited to outdoor-only team practices and athletes must wear masks.
College and professional sports are allowed to continue. Inslee previously cited the “rigorous protocols” they have put in place for allowing them to continue.
Seattle Times reporter Paul Roberts contributed to this story.