SEATTLE, WA — State Secretary of Health John Wiesman is reviewing five applications from counties hoping to enter Phase 2 of the Safe Start plan.
Okanogan, Skagit, Snohomish, Pierce and Whatcom counties have all submitted applications to enter Phase 2 since the state announced looser Phase 2 regulations on Friday. Two of those applications, from Whatcom and Pierce County, were submitted Tuesday. A decision on those counties is expected over the next few days.
If those counties see their applications granted, many of their businesses will be allowed to return to work, including restaurants, salons, manufacturers, gyms, retailers and more. Each of those industries has been given a set of unique safety guidelines they will need to follow to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Social distancing requirements will also remain in effect, but restrictions on nonessential travel will be loosened so that residents can travel to and from reopened businesses.
Meanwhile, the first applications to enter Phase 3 can be submitted starting Wednesday. Like a Phase 2 application, they will need a county's hospitals, health officers, board of health and county commission or council to unanimously support the application. The application will be reviewed on similar lines as a Phase 2 application: judged primarily on the number of new coronavirus cases a county has seen over the past three weeks.
But, there is one new key consideration linked to the state's contact tracing program. Counties will be asked to identify how each of their new coronavirus patients was first exposed to the virus. Those that can't determine how the virus is spreading, are less likely to have their Phase 3 applications granted.
"Are there cases where they just can't identify a link to someone else?" asked Secretary of Health John Wiesman at a press conference Tuesday.
The state has been expanding their contact tracing program to do just that. As of Tuesday, 90 percent of all new coronavirus patients are interviewed by contact tracing agents within 24 hours of having their illness confirmed, according to Maria Courogen, Branch Director of Disease Containment with the state Department of Health.
Another consideration for Phase 3 applications will be the expansion of coronavirus testing sites, with a particular emphasis on increasing testing in underserved communities or communities of color.
Entering into Phase 3 of the Safe Start plan lifts a variety of restrictions:
- Outdoor group activities and sports matches can resume as long as they involve 50 or fewer people.
- Similarly, public gatherings can involve up to 50 people.
- Recreational facilities like gyms and public pools can return at half capacity.
- Theaters can return at half capacity.
- Restaurants and bars can return to 75 percent capacity, table sizes will be limited to 10 people.
- Restrictions on non-essential travel are completely lifted.
- Libraries and museums can reopen to the public.
Phase 3 still contains restrictions on nightclubs and large events like concert venues and sports stadiums, which all return in Phase 4 of the Safe Start plan.