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Gov. Inslee unveils 'Healthy Washington' COVID-19 reopening plan

Less than a week before certain coronavirus restrictions were set to expire, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced a new reopening plan called "Healthy Washington."

SEATTLE — Gov. Jay Inslee announced a new reopening plan for Washington state when current coronavirus restrictions around indoor dining and gatherings expire Jan. 11.

The plan, called “Healthy Washington,” will allow regions to reopen when they meet certain metrics around hospitalization and case data, Inslee said during a news conference Tuesday.

“What we announce today won’t be resulting in big significant reopenings today, but it is a plan so that we can do that tomorrow when these conditions exist to allow us to move forward,” Inslee said.

The update comes less than a week before coronavirus restrictions on indoor dining, gyms and indoor gatherings will expire. The restrictions, which were originally imposed in mid-November to combat skyrocketing COVID-19 cases, have been extended multiple times and are set to end Jan. 11.

Under the plan, there will only be two phases of reopening to start, and the state will add more as the situation improves. All counties, which are grouped into eight regions, will begin in Phase 1. To move on to Phase 2, the region must meet the following four targets:

  • 10% decreasing trend in case rates
  • 10% decrease in coronavirus hospital admission rates
  • ICU occupancy that’s less than 90%
  • Test positivity rate that’s less than 10%

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The new Phase 2 allows indoor dining and indoor fitness centers at 25% capacity, increased wedding and funeral capacity and sports competitions with limited spectators.

Certain restrictions will be lifted Jan. 11, including live entertainment with tight capacity restrictions and certain fitness program, according to Inslee.

This plan differs from the previous "Safe Start" program in that there are fewer phases, and counties will move forward regionally rather than on a county by county basis.

Five regions will encompass western Washington:

  • Puget Sound: King, Pierce and Snohomish counties
  • North: Whatcom, Skagit, San Juan and Island counties
  • Northwest: Clallam, Jefferson, Mason and Kitsap counties
  • West: Grays Harbor, Thurston, Pacific and Lewis counties
  • Southwest: Wahkiakum, Cowlitz, Clark, Skamania and Klickitat counties

Spokane, Ferry and Whitman are among the 9 counties in the state's East region.

Credit: Gov. Inslee's office

Inslee said the regional approach to reopening makes sense from a public health perspective, as the virus doesn't know county lines, and because many health care systems are regional.

Washington state avoided a spike in cases after Thanksgiving, and daily case counts declined in mid-December, according to data from the Washington State Department of Health.

From Dec. 11-24, Washington recorded 409.9 new cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people, which is the lowest rate of coronavirus activity in Washington since early November.

Inslee's announcement was met with mixed reaction. Kris Johnson, president of the Association of Washington Business, released a statement Tuesday that said, in part: 

“This new plan is intended to offer a road map for reopening the economy, but it’s an incomplete map at best with a destination that remains out of reach for too many small businesses struggling to survive the pandemic. Impacted employers need the ability to reopen today (at a minimum 25% capacity), with appropriate safety measures— not a new system with a new set of metrics. It’s unfortunate this plan doesn’t currently provide a pathway to opening beyond 25% capacity for those businesses impacted or closed, and it fails to spell out a way for businesses to fully reopen. We fear this will only make it harder for many communities, employers and families to begin the long process of rebuilding."