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Inslee could announce stricter COVID-19 rules for some Washington counties Monday

Gov. Inslee is expected to announce Monday if some Washington counties will have to roll back to Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan due to rising COVID-19 cases.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Gov. Jay Inslee will announce Monday whether some counties in Washington state will have to roll back to Phase 2 of the state’s COVID-19 reopening plan because of rising cases.

At a news conference Thursday, Inslee said “we’ve let our guard down to some degree.” 

All of Washington’s 39 counties are currently in Phase 3 of Inslee’s "Healthy Washington" reopening plan, meaning all indoor spaces — including indoor dining at restaurants, indoor fitness centers, and retail — have been able to increase capacity from 25% to 50%. 

Larger events like concerts and graduation ceremonies are OK since up to 400 people will be allowed to gather for indoor and outdoor activities as long as physical distancing and masking are enforced.

Inslee announced changes Friday to the criteria for counties to stay in Phase 3 of the reopening plan. Under the governor's original plan that took effect March 22, counties would be evaluated every three weeks on two metrics – case rate over two weeks and hospitalization rate over one week – and needed to meet both to remain in their current phase. That means any county that failed one of the two metrics would have moved back one phase in reopening.

Now, a county must fail both of the metrics for case counts and hospitalizations to move down one phase, Inslee said Friday.

RELATED: Does your county meet metrics to stay in Phase 3? Check this map

While most of the counties in jeopardy of rolling back are in central and eastern Washington, Pierce County in western Washington is also on the list. 

According to the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, cases in Pierce County have been on the rise since mid-March. The county hasn’t been able to keep cases and hospitalizations down far enough to maintain its Phase 3 status under the state’s Roadmap to Recovery metrics.

If implemented, the county could be dropped back to Phase 2 by April 16.

“Unfortunately, as we’ve seen this whole pandemic, it really isn’t one place or one group of people that is contributing to our high case rate in Pierce County,” said Cindan Gizzi, deputy director of the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. “We’re seeing them in business, in schools, in congregate care facilities, we’re still seeing them throughout the county.”

Nearly 70 state business organizations have urged Inslee to delay for three weeks any decision to return some counties to more restrictive coronavirus standards, which would hurt businesses. 

The business groups said in a letter sent Friday night to Inslee that moving some counties back to Phase 2 would punish struggling businesses while doing little to stop the spread of the virus. 

The letter was signed by groups including the Association of Washington Business, the Washington Hospitality Association and numerous chambers of commerce across the state.

RELATED: Washington business groups ask governor not to roll back some counties to Phase 2