Restaurants can begin to offer in-house dining in Washington’s three largest counties, as the state Health Department approved applications from King, Pierce and Snohomish counties on Friday to move to new phases of reopening the economy.
In total, the state approved applications from 14 counties to progress to various stages of reopening.
The changes go into effect immediately.
King County can move to a “modified Phase 1,” in which restaurants can offer indoor dining at 25% of capacity and outdoor dining at 50% capacity. In-store retail can operate at 15% capacity; barbers, salons and tattoo studios at 25% capacity and professional services like accountants and attorneys can return to their offices at 25% capacity. Fitness studios can reopen, but if operating indoors can only offer one-on-one services.
It also allows outdoor gatherings of five people or fewer, but that guideline has been essentially ignored in recent days, with public health officials offering their support of the mass protests that have brought thousands of people together.
Gov. Jay Inslee also announced Friday that pro sports can resume practices and activities in all counties, regardless of phase, but still cannot have fans in stadiums.
With King County restaurants only allowed to open a quarter of their dining rooms, some are bound to wait longer before reopening, said Jacque Coe, a spokeswoman for the Seattle Restaurant Alliance.
“Not everyone is going to be able to do it; it’s a step forward,” Coe said. “The restaurants are ready to serve and looking forward to Phase 2.”
Pierce and Snohomish counties, as well as Clark, Okanogan, Skagit and Whatcom counties can move to Phase 2 of reopening, which allows restaurants to offer indoor dining at half capacity. Youth sports practices can resume outdoors in Phase 2 counties, as long as players are spread five feet apart and are in groups of no more than five, spread across the field, Inslee said Friday.
Columbia, Ferry, Garfield, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Stevens and Wahkiakum counties were approved to move to Phase 3, which allows restaurants to operate at 75% capacity, movie theaters to reopen at half capacity and lets libraries and museums reopen. Youth sports can resume playing games in Phase 3 counties.
In total, 34 of Washington’s 39 counties have now been approved for some level of reopening. As of Friday, the state has confirmed 22,993 cases of coronavirus, resulting in 1,149 deaths and 3,639 hospitalizations.
“We will be closely monitoring the data and metrics to ensure we are able to accommodate the potential increase in cases, and adapt as needed,” Dr. Chris Spitters, health officer for the Snohomish Health District, said in a prepared statement.
To progress in reopening, counties must have declining infection levels, adequate supplies of personal protective equipment, space in hospitals, ample testing capacity and a contact tracing system in place to try to contain the virus.
Dr. Kathy Lofy, the state health officer, said public health officials look at the metrics in concert with each other when evaluating each county. So if a county has slightly higher infection rates, but a very robust contact tracing program, the state may accept those higher rates. Ten cases that can be traced to one specific outbreak are looked at differently than 10 cases appearing unexplained in scattered locations.
King County, according to its reopening application, is just under the new threshold set by the state for new infections. The county reported 24 new infections per 100,000 people over the past two weeks, barely below the figure set by the state of 25. The state last week adjusted its threshold for moving toward Phase 2 from 10 new infections per 100,000 to 25. The county is still not testing enough people, according to the state’s criteria, to move to a full Phase 2.
“The success of this guidance depends on business owners and community members embracing public health best practices, and understanding that one size doesn’t fit all,” County Executive Dow Constantine said in a prepared statement. “By opening our economy carefully and deliberately, we make sure to stay healthy and continue down the path to full recovery.”
Public Health — Seattle & King County said it would monitor the county’s infection stats until June 14, and if they remain stable, will then apply to move to Phase 2.
Retail stores in counties moving to Phase 2 can also reopen, at 30% capacity. Counties generally must remain at each phase of reopening for at least three weeks, without seeing spikes in infections, before proceeding to the next phase.
“While we are eager to see some of the restrictions lifted, I urge our community to continue with the practices that protect themselves, their families and our community,” Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier said in a statement.