PIERCE COUNTY, WA — As of Friday, Pierce County has been in Phase 2 of the Safe Start plan for three weeks and would normally be eligible to apply to enter Phase 3. However, the county has seen its coronavirus cases nearly double over the past few weeks, and it's likely that a Phase 3 application would be denied by the state Secretary of Health.
Now, Pierce County's Director of Health is proposing a plan that would allow the county to move forward, without entering a full Phase 3: a "modified Phase 2."
Director of Health Dr. Anthony L-T Chen announced Friday his intention to propose the modified Phase 2 at the upcoming Tacoma-Pierce County Board of Health meeting on July 1.
“Pierce County residents have remained strong and have stuck together so we can move through these phases of re-opening," said Chen. "Proposing an expanded Phase 2 is the right choice for our health and the right choice for our society and economy."
Like the modified Phase 1 King County used before entering Phase 2 in full, a modified Phase 2 would split the difference between Phases 2 and 3, allowing for some restrictions to be loosened, but not as much as would be allowed in a full Phase 3. For example, Phase 3 allows for outdoor gatherings of up to 50 people, who can even compete in team sports. A modified Phase 2, however, would only allow for gatherings of up to 25 people and keep team sports banned.
Other modified Phase 2 perks include:
- Households could now have up to five visitors inside per week.
- Libraries and museums could reopen to the public with physical distancing safeguards.
Businesses would largely see their restrictions remain the same: under a full Phase 3 restaurants and taverns can reopen up to 75 percent capacity. Under modified Phase 2 they'd remain as is, stuck at just half capacity. Gyms and public swimming pools would also remain closed, both of which could normally reopen under Phase 3.
Health officials say they know it's unfortunate Pierce County can't make the full step to Phase 3, but it's more likely to be approved, and less dangerous for the communty, especially considering the recent ride in case counts.
“We do not want to rush to open when we continue to see an increase in COVID-19,” said Chen.
The state's COVID-19 risk assessment dashboard shows the key metrics used to determine which counties can move forward in the Safe Start plan. As of it's latest update Wednesday, the board has Pierce County failing three of those five key metrics. While the metrics are more of a loose guideline and counties have been approved to move ahead without meeting all of them, Pierce County has fallen especially far behind on the first and perhaps most pivotal metric: the county has reported 63.4 coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents over the past two weeks. The goal is to be under 25, which the Pierce had successfully done to enter Phase 2.
To get that case count down again and keep everyone safe, Pierce County health leaders are asking everyone to continue following these simple safety tips:
- Wear a face covering while in public, as recently mandated by the state government.
- Stay near your home to avoid spreading the virus.
- Interact only with a small circle of friends and family, and keep gatherings small.
- Get tested for COVID-19 immediately if you show symptoms or have recently been a part of any large gatherings.
- Frequently wash your hands, cover your coughs, and practice good hygiene.
“Pierce County has learned much about how to care for one another,” said Tacoma-Pierce County Board of Health Chair Catherine Ushka. "We still have a long way to go and must ask residents to continue to be vigilant and care for each other."
The Director of Health's modified Phase 2 proposal will be discussed by the county board of health when it next meets at 3 p.m. Wednesday. If approved, it would go to the county council for their vote, before being given to Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier who would need to sign and complete the application. That whole process could happen relatively quickly: Pierce County's application to enter Phase 2 ran through those steps in just 3 days.