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All Washington counties moving to Phase 3 of reopening

Coronavirus restrictions will be further relaxed March 22, allowing for 50% occupancy in indoor spaces in Washington.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — All counties in Washington will move to Phase 3 of the state’s “Healthy Washington” reopening plan on March 22.

Under Phase 3, indoor spaces, like restaurants and movie theaters, can have 50% occupancy. Up to 400 people can attend indoor and outdoor activities, such as concerts and high school graduations, as long as physical distancing and masking is enforced. Outdoor events with permanent facilities can have 25% occupancy for spectators, which means the Mariners can have fans for Opening Day.

Spectator capacity is also expanded for high school and youth sports. High school contact sports, like basketball, wrestling and cheerleading, can resume.

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Currently, all counties are in Phase 2, which allows for 25% occupancy indoors at restaurants, retail shops and gyms.

The state will also move away from a regional system in the reopening plan to a county-based system. Previously, counties were grouped into eight regions and moved forward or backward with their region. County progress will now be assessed individually.

The state will evaluate counties every three weeks instead of two with the first assessment planned for April 12.

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Counties must meet two metrics – new cases per 100,000 people per 14 days and hospitalizations per 100,000 people per seven days – to remain in Phase 3. If a county fails one of those metrics, they will move backwards one phase. Additionally, if ICU occupancy is greater than 90%, the county will return to Phase 1.

The exact metrics vary based on county size and which phase the county is in. For example, to remain in Phase 3, counties with more than 50,000 people must record fewer than 200 new cases per 100,000 people per 14 days and fewer than five new COVID-19 hospitalizations per 100,000 people per week.

This threshold applies to most western Washington counties, with the exception of San Juan and Jefferson counties, which are smaller and have lower thresholds.

The thresholds for Phases 1 and 2 are also lower due to the case and hospitalization rates required.

Credit: Office of Gov. Jay Inslee
These are the thresholds for counties to move ahead to following phases. Counties must meet both metrics over a three-week period to remain in Phase 3. Otherwise, counties will move back a phase.

Previously regions had to meet three out of four metrics, which included COVID-19 test positivity rate in addition to case rate, hospital admission rate and ICU occupancy.

Incarcerated people also no longer count towards a county’s case rate when counties are assessed for reopening.

The change comes two weeks after Inslee paused the state’s reopening plan, saying no counties would move backward while health officials tracked COVID-19 trends.

The state has ramped up COVID-19 vaccination efforts, surpassing its goal of 45,000 vaccines per day on average. As of March 8, 10% of Washingtonians are fully vaccinated, and 18% have gotten at least one shot, according to DOH data.

At the same time, COVID-19 cases have plateaued since mid-February after declining from the most recent peak in January. Between Feb. 21-27, Washington recorded an average of 705 new COVID-19 cases per day, which is the state’s lowest case rate since October.

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