State changes rules, fewer counties to return to Phase 2

On Friday, Gov. Jay Inslee announced a change to the Healthy Washington pandemic reopening plan.

Before, to stay in Phase 3, larger counties needed to have less than 200 COVID cases per 100,000 residents in two weeks, and less than five new COVID hospitalizations per 100,000 residents in one week.

If a county failed to meet one of those requirements, it would be rolled back to Phase 2. Today, the governor changed the guidelines so that a county needs to fail both of them.

“After looking at the most recent data, we were confident that this is the right thing for the state of Washington,” said Gov. Jay Inslee after he toured a mass vaccination site in Spokane.

He said the Department of Health looked at data on the number of variant COVID cases and the supply of vaccine arriving in the state and decided to alter the guidelines. Rolling back to Phase 2 would return indoor dining capacity to 25%, and impact gyms, retail stores, and churches.

On Friday, Dr. Jeff Duchin of Public Health Seattle and King County couldn’t predict if King County would be rolled back.

“With respect to whether or not King County will hit that threshold, it is impossible to predict. I really would have thought, based on our trajectory last week, that we would have crossed that threshold this week.” said Dr. Duchin. He will wait to see what the state determines on Monday, but isn’t concerned about the rule change. “The two tend to track together, I don’t have a lot of anxiety about requiring them both to be met.” he said.

Rolling back to Phase 2 seemed a sure thing for Pierce County, before the rules changed.

“This could be very close,” said Nigel Turner of Tacoma Pierce County Health Department. “I think the focus needs to be on what we can do if we go back to two. Nobody wants to go back to two, but understanding that we need to do what we can to control disease in our community.”