SPOKANE, Wash — Washington Governor Jay Inslee announced Thursday that the East region of the state would originally move into Phase 2 of reopening on Feb. 15.
Hours after the announcement, Washington Hospitality Association President and CEO Anthony Anton said the governor's office contacted him and said the governor will allow the reopening to happen a day early so people can celebrate the Valentine's Day holiday. A spokesman for the governor's office confirmed the date as well.
This comes after some Spokane leaders asked the governor on social media to consider a date change for the holiday.
According to the Healthy Washington metrics, the East region, which includes Spokane and eight other counties, saw a decrease in in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations over two weeks per 100,000 people. The region also saw a decrease in COVID patients in the ICU.
The move into Phase 2 allows a handful of businesses in Eastern Washington to reopen at limited capacity, including restaurants for indoor dining and fitness centers. Wedding receptions are also allowed in Phase 2, with some restrictions in place. The only things that won't change are capacity for worship services, retail services and personal and professional services.
Four other regions will also move into Phase 2, including:
- North – Whatcom, Skagit, Island and San Juan
- Northwest – Clallam, Jefferson, Kitsap and Mason
- Southwest – Clark, Cowlitz, Klickitat, Skamania and Wahkiakum
- North Central – Chelan, Okanogan, Douglas and Grant
During a press conference on Thursday afternoon, Inslee said he would consider allowing Phase 2 to start earlier than Monday for the Valentine's Day holiday and the expected cold snap.
Inslee said that 92% of the people in the state will be in Phase 2 starting Monday. The only region in the state that isn’t in Phase 2 is the South Central region, including the Walla Walla, Tri-Cities and Yakima areas.
Inslee said he doesn't have a date for when Phase 3 guidelines/restrictions will be released. He said the state has been focused on getting to Phase 2.
He said this is now both a time for celebration for the state but also a time for increased diligence due to new variants of COVID-19. The decision to reopen most of the state despite risk of having to move back, Inslee said, was based on science and the fact that businesses have had to close for months. He added that if the numbers go back up, the state can go back in phases.
Regions could be moved back if metrics start going in the wrong direction. Under the state guidelines, the regions must still meet three of four requirements in two weeks.
- 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%
If the region meets two or fewer, they would return to Phase 1 the following Monday.
On average, Washington recorded 2,894 new cases per day at the most recent peak on Jan. 8. Since then, the seven-day average dropped to 1,327 new cases as of Jan. 30, according to data from the Washington State Department of Health.
The East region has been in Phase 1 of reopening since Inslee announced a revised Roadmap to Recovery plan in late January. Under the revised plan, regions are required to meet three of four health metrics to progress, instead of all four. The changes follow conversations with public health leaders and the state's increasing vaccination rates.
State vaccine rollout update
Washington is nearing 1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses administered, according to the governor.
Inslee said getting close to 1 million doses is an achievement, but he also acknowledged that people are frustrated by the wait for their doses.
The governor said they are ready to ramp up vaccine administration in light of President Biden's administration saying they are ready to ramp up distribution.
Inslee says they are making rapid progress in vaccination push and that "help is on the way" for those who haven't had their shots yet.
He said equity in vaccine distribution among communities of color has been paramount, explains that this helped determine where the mass vaccination sites were located.
Financial help for rent, businesses
Inslee also announced that he is approving the Department of Commerce to distribute $87 million more for rental and business assistance Thursday. The funds will be split evenly between the two industries. He said the money can be used for many things, including rent, utilities and other costs.
Department of Commerce Director Lisa Brown said the department will disperse funds with their partners across the state and in every county. She asks people who need rental assistance to go to commerce.wa.gov.
Inslee also said he hopes to sign the legislature's relief bill into law next week.