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Pierce County one of three moving back to Phase 2 of Washington's reopening plan

Cowlitz, Pierce and Whitman counties have seen increases in case rates and hospitalizations over the past several weeks.

SEATTLE — Failing to keep COVID-19 case rates and hospitalizations down recently, Cowlitz, Pierce and Whitman counties are being moved back to Phase 2 of Washington state's reopening plan on April 16.

That means businesses, including restaurants and gyms, will once again be operating at a maximum of 25% capacity. 

Gov. Jay Inslee recently announced counties must fail two metrics – case rate over two weeks and hospitalization rate over one week – in order to be moved back one phase. The change makes it easier for counties to remain in their current phase. 

However, Cowlitz, Pierce, and Whitman counties have seen a rise in cases and hospitalizations, according to data from the Washington State Department of Health. 

Pierce County's case rate was 268 per 100,000 people between March 20 and April 2, with a hospitalization rate of 6.4 between March 24 and March 30. Cowlitz' case rate was 332.1 and its hospitalization rate 11.8 over the same period. Whitman County saw a case rate of 416 and a hospitalization rate of 5.9.

“These metric trends are driven by the virus and we must continue to do everything we can to sharpen our focus and keep COVID-19 activity down. We are so close to the end of the tunnel here — we have made tremendous progress and we must keep our focus,” Inslee said. “It’s like a football game; we have done 95 yards on a 99 yard-drive. We can’t let up now. These are not punitive actions; they are to save lives and protect public health.”

In order to stay in Phase 3, larger counties with more than 50,000 residents have to have fewer than 200 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people over 14 days and fewer than five new COVID-19 hospitalizations per 100,000 people over seven days. 

Smaller counties with populations of 50,000 or fewer people must have fewer than 100 new COVID-19 case over 14 days and fewer than three hospitalizations over seven days.

The next evaluation of counties will be on May 3.

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.

“This rollback is disappointing, but we know what we must do to reduce disease spread and open up more of our economy,” said Director of Health Anthony L-T Chen. “We are seeing more cases in small and informal gatherings. I know everyone is eager to get back to doing what they love, but we cannot let our guard down and allow the pandemic to come roaring back.”

Responding to the announcement that Pierce County would move back to Phase 2, Pierce County Council Chair Derek Young said the news was "discouraging." 

"This setback is a gut-punch to all of us, especially our Pierce County businesses that made it through winter," Young said.

The council, according to a prepared statement from the council, is ready to make $4 million available from the county's general fund to aid small businesses and nonprofits to avoid layoffs and sta in business.