WASHINGTON — Wednesday marked the first day that the earliest Washington counties could apply to enter Phase 3 of Gov. Jay Inslee's Safe Start plan to reopen businesses as the pandemic comes under control, and on the day the floodgates opened six counties applied.
Columbia, Ferry, Lincoln, Pend Orielle, Stevens and Wahkiakum counties have all submitted applications in the hopes of moving forward.
A county must have been in Phase 2 for at least 3 weeks before it is eligible to enter Phase 3. Columbia, Ferry, Lincoln, and Pend Orielle all received approval to enter Phase 2 on May 8. Wahkiakum and Stevens followed shortly after on May 11. Garfield and Skamania counties are also eligible to apply, but have not yet submitted an application.
The moves into Phase 3 come as larger counties are still struggling to enter Phase 2. Snohomish and Pierce counties applied to enter Phase 2 earlier this week, and
Applications to enter Phase 3 are judged on a variety of metrics. Counties ideally will still need to have less than 25 new cases of the coronavirus per every 100,000 residents over a two-week period, as they did to enter Phase 2. They'll also need to effectively use contact tracing to track how the virus is spreading: a county entering Phase 3 should interview 90 percent of coronavirus patients within 24 hours of that patient receiving a positive test. From there, 80 percent of the people that patient had contact with will need to be interviewed within 48 hours.
Overall, the state says so far contact tracing has been able to meet those metrics. At a press conference Tuesday Maria Courogen, Branch Director of Disease Containment with the state Department of Health, said state-wide Washington had met their goal of interviewing 90 percent of new cases within one day.
The six county's applications will take a few days to be reviewed and approved or denied by the state Secretary of Health. Counties who are approved to enter Phase 3 will see a number of restrictions lifted:
- Outdoor group activities and sports matches can resume as long as they involve 50 or fewer people.
- Likewise, 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, the final phase of the Safe Start plan.
As of Wednesday, 27 Washington counties have entered Phase 2, which allows the return on restaurants, bars, taverns, salons, in-store retail and more. 12 counties remain in Phase 1, including the state's most populous counties King, Pierce and Snohomish. Snohomish and Pierce have applied to enter Phase 2, and their applications are under consideration. King meanwhile has submitted an application to enter a "modified Phase 1" which would allow them to reopen some businesses, though not to the extent Phase 2 would allow.