OLYMPIA — Five counties east of the Cascade Mountains will advance to the second phase in Gov. Jay Inslee’s four-part reopening plan.

Those counties — Benton, Chelan, Douglas, Franklin and Yakima — have been stuck in a modified first phase, the most restrictive of Inslee’s emergency plan governing limits on businesses and social activities.

Inslee’s announcement Tuesday is the first large change since the governor this summer put his county-by-county plan on hold amid a spike in cases.

Still, Inslee himself in a news conference called it a “modest change,” noting that those five counties had already been in “phase 1.5.”

The five counties this summer represented some of the biggest COVID-19 hot spots in the state.

Yakima County ranked among the nation’s most severely affected, and the state even implemented a stricter requirement for facial coverings there when ordering a statewide mask mandate in June.


But Inslee on Tuesday credited people in those communities for tamping down the spread of the virus, including through the use of facial coverings.

“And as a result of masking up, they have knocked down these numbers down dramatically,” Inslee said.

Tuesday’s announcement will ease some restrictions and bring those counties in line with King, Snohomish, Pierce and others who are currently in the second phase.