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King County risks phase rollback as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rise

If King County rolled back to Phase 2 of the state's Healthy Washington plan, retail and restaurant capacity would drop from 50% to 25%.

SEATTLE — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee made a public push for people to get vaccinated Thursday, as a "fourth wave" of the coronavirus has hit the state potentially sending more counties on a phase rollback, including King County.

The announcement comes as metrics show that case rates and hospitalizations continue to trend upward.

"We look at these metrics really carefully, we think it's very likely that we will go past that threshold in the coming weeks," Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said matter-of-factly to KING 5.

King County has now exceeded one metric it needs to stay under in order to remain in Phase 3 and is perilously close to exceeding the other.

The state has mandated that a county must have no more than 200 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents in 14 days, and no more than five new hospitalizations per 100,000 people in seven days.

King County is at 209.6 new cases per 100,000, exceeding that metric, and at 4.7 hospitalizations per 100,000.

RELATED: Health officials warn about 'unusual' COVID-19 testing operations in King County

If the hospitalization number reaches five people per 100,000, it would force King County into a rollback to Phase 2, with retail and restaurant capacity dropping from 50% to 25%.

Neighboring Pierce County rolled back earlier this month, from Phase 3 to Phase 2.

"It's really important that people realize we are not out of the woods, we need people to double down on the safety precautions, wearing their mask, keeping physical distance, not having all those gatherings with no mask and close together," said Durkan.

This comes even as the state's vaccine distribution seems to be going relatively smoothly. Inslee said it's expected that the state will pass the 5 million dose mark this week, with almost 2 million people fully vaccinated.

Inslee said this is no time for vaccine hesitancy.

"I'm sure you've heard people that have said, 'Well, I'm kind of on the fence on this vaccine.' Being on the fence is too dangerous position right now," Inslee said.

The Seattle waterfront has been hit hard because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the loss of another cruise season is particularly harmful.

But Ivar's CEO Bob Donegan said he remains optimistic with warmer weather ahead.

"It's feeling better today than it's felt in 14 months," Donegan said Thursday.

But he said many businesses would be hit hard with another rollback.

"If you're a mom-and-pop or a chef-driven restaurant, it's only got 20 or 30 seats, and you can't do 10 or 15 seats, you can only do a fraction of that," said Donegan. "There's no way you can cover your costs. So much smaller restaurants are going to have to rely on pickup, takeout, delivery. And that's not a good model because the delivery companies are taking 15% off the top."

The state's next evaluation of the Healthy Washington criteria will be May 3.

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