Inslee announces 2-week pause to state’s reopening plan

OLYMPIA, Wash. — On Tuesday, Gov. Jay Inslee announced a two-week pause to the Healthy Washington reopening plan, with all counties staying in their current phases.

Currently, all of Washington’s 39 counties are in phase 3, except for Pierce, Cowlitz and Whitman, which were rolled back to phase 2 last month.

>>More coronavirus in Washington news in our Race to Recovery section

It was speculated that Inslee would possibly roll back some counties, including King, to previous phases with more restrictions.

Under the reopening plan, counties are evaluated every three weeks on Mondays, with any rollbacks going into effect on Friday.

Monday was evaluation day, and potential rollbacks were expected to be announced on Tuesday. But instead, Inslee said the next evaluation will happen in two weeks because the state is in an evolving situation.

Though epidemiologists have seen a fourth wave of COVID spreading in Washington, the most recent data show COVID activity appears to be leveling off, King County Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin said.

Unlike what was seen in previous waves, the fourth wave has been less severe and has not been coupled with an increase in the number of deaths.

“The changes in data throughout the fourth wave have been attributed to increasing vaccination rates, shortening hospital stays and lessening the severity of the illness. The state’s early vaccine prioritization has also been tied to improved data and decreasing mortality rates in the state’s most vulnerable populations,” a news release from the governor’s office said.

Inslee said that complying with restrictions is one of the best ways to control the virus, and when people contact the state about a violation, state agencies, which have handed down $7.3 million in penalties so far, will investigate.

Officials said they believe that if people remain committed to complying with restrictions and getting vaccinated, there’s reason to believe that sometime this summer there will be a more substantial reopening.

On March 22, the reopening plan returned to a county-by-county evaluation after the governor had moved to a regional approach.

Under the county-based system, a county must meet at least one of the metrics for its current phase in order to remain in that phase.

Counties that no longer meet both metrics move back one phase. Counties that meet both metrics for a higher phase can move forward a phase.

The data used to determine the phases are new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents in the population over two weeks and new hospitalizations per 100,000 residents in the population over one week.

Large and small counties have a different set of criteria. A small county is one with a population of less than 50,000. See the Roadmap to Recovery metrics here.

See what’s open in each phase at this link.