OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee Tuesday loosened restrictions on a range of businesses and activities, from movie theaters to restaurants to sports, under his four-part coronavirus reopening plan.
The move came after Washington this summer stopped counties from advancing to further stages of reopening under that plan.
In a news conference, Inslee said he wasn’t resuming those county-by-county reopenings, but described Tuesday’s measures as “targeted things to show how we can do this in a safe way” amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The changes come as Washington — like states across the nation — is starting to see an uptick in cases that health officials worry could worsen in the coming months.
But Inslee — who also said the state would make another push to encourage the widespread use of facial coverings — said the new measures were a way to safely open up a little further. State health officials reported 387 new COVID-19 cases in Washington as of Monday night, and seven new deaths. The update brings the state’s totals to 90,663 cases and 2,165 deaths.
“We believe that if we continue to increase our use of masks, and we hope that we’re heading in that direction, that will allow us to make these shifts to allow more social interactions,” said Inslee.
Tuesday’s announcement includes loosening restrictions on restaurants, which have been hard hit by the economic downturn.
Counties in the second phase — including King, Pierce and Snohomish — and in the third phase can now serve alcohol up to 11 p.m.
After Inslee’s announcement, Dave Montoure, owner of West 5 in West Seattle, hopped on the phone to see who on his staff can work later hours now that he can keep doors open until 11 p.m.
“It’s not a game-changer, but it’s a small step in the right direction. We welcome it with open arms,” he said. “It gives us better flexibility — with dinner service and post-dinner service.”
Restaurants will also be able to boost their party size to six people per table in the second phase, and to eight people per table in the third phase.
The announcement will also end a restriction on tables being limited to members of one household, which Inslee said turned out to be difficult to enforce.
Movie theaters in second-phase counties can operate at 25% capacity, according to the new guidelines. For counties in the third phase, those theaters can open at 50% capacity. Facial coverings and 6 feet of distance between people of different households will be required.
Republicans have criticized Inslee for early in the pandemic imposing one of the strictest stay-home orders in the nation to curb the spread of the virus. Since then, the governor has allowed businesses to reopen gradually, and more slowly than in some other states.
Inslee’s GOP challenger in next month’s election, Loren Culp, has made resistance to the governor’s emergency orders a centerpiece of his campaign.
Nearly all of Washington’s 39 counties are in the second or third phase of the governor’s reopening plan. No county is in the fourth, least restrictive, phase.
Five counties in central and eastern Washington remain in a modified first phase, the most restrictive.
As part of Tuesday’s announcement, real estate agents can hold open houses of numbers allowable under their county’s size limit for gatherings. Meanwhile, other guidelines will allow libraries to offer some more services.
The announcement also loosens some restrictions around some school and nonschool youth sports. The guidance puts sports into three risk levels, and allows them based on how counties are meeting specific public-health metrics.
For example, most counties could potentially see the resumption of sports considered low-risk, such as tennis, swimming, golf, cross country, track and field, dance, no-contact cheer and disc golf, according to the guidance.
Sports considered a moderate risk include baseball and softball, T-ball and soccer, volleyball, lacrosse, ice hockey, cricket and field hockey, gymnastics and crew, and bowling.
High-risk sports include football, basketball, wrestling, cheerleading and dance with contact, roller derby and martial-arts competitions, according to the guidance.
The governor’s office also released protocols for a variety of outdoor group sports with more than a dozen participants, such as bicycle rides, runs and marathons, kayak and canoe races, among others.
And Inslee announced some water-recreation facilities would be able to open on a limited basis. Facilities in counties in the first or second phase can open on an appointment-only basis.
And facilities in third-phase counties can open at 50% capacity.
The four-phase plan allows counties to request permission from state health officials to advance according to public-health metrics around the virus.
Inslee and health officials this summer stopped counties from advancing to less-restrictive phases after a spike in cases.
Residents must continue to keep their distance from one another and wear facial coverings, said Inslee, who compared the latter to aircraft carriers.
“And what aircraft carriers were in World War II, the mask is today,” said Inslee. “And we’re not going to accept the unilateral disarmament, frankly, that the president has called for.”
Seattle Times food writer Tan Vinh contributed to this report.