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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Inslee adjusts reopening criteria, two western WA regions eligible to begin reopening Monday

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network
Wash. Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday that two regions of the state will be moving into Phase 2 on Monday.

Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday announced adjustments to his phased reopening plan that will allow two western Washington regions, comprising seven counties and nearly 60 percent of the state’s population, to move to Phase 2 beginning on Monday.

Under Inslee’s revised “Healthy Washington – Roadmap to Recovery” plan, first announced January 6, restaurants, bars, gyms and other facilities can begin to reopen in regions that meet three of four metrics. Previously, a region had to meet all four.

That means, starting Monday, the Puget Sound region --comprising Snohomish, King and Pierce Counties -- and the West region --made up of Grays Harbor, Pacific, Thurston and Lewis Counties -- will be eligible to enter Phase 2.

Six other regions with a total of 32 counties, including all of eastern Washington, will remain in Phase 1 for now. Currently, four of those regions appear to be meeting two of four metrics. Going forward, the status of each region will be re-evaluated every two weeks. Previously, it was every week.

Credit Office of Gov. Jay Inslee
Under a revised reopening plan, the Puget Sound and West regions of the state will be eligible to move to a Phase 2 reopening beginning on Monday.

Under Phase 2, indoor social gatherings with up to five people from a maximum of two households are allowed. Under Phase 1 they are prohibited. In Phase 2, restaurants can resume indoor dining and indoor gyms can reopen, both at 25 percent capacity. As well, entertainment facilities, like aquariums, bowling alleys and theaters, can reopen at 25 percent capacity, or up to 200 people, whichever is less.

Inslee’s office said the changes follow “further conversations with public health partners” and the fact that people are now being vaccinated against COVID-19. However, at the same time public health officials are warning that a new, more contagious variant of the virus has arrived in Washington

The four metrics for reopening, which remain unchanged are:

  • A declining rate of 10 percent or more in COVID cases over 14 days
  • A decline of 10 percent or more in new COVID hospital admissions over 14 days
  • An average intensive care unit occupancy rate of less than 90 percent over seven days 
  • A seven day COVID positivity test rate of less than 10 percent.

According to the state’s “Roadmap to Recovery” dashboard, the Puget Sound and West regions are meeting all but the case rate metric, which is up in both regions. 

In order to remain in Phase 2, regions are required to continue to meet at least three of the four metrics. That remains unchanged under the new guidance.

Credit Office of Gov. Jay Inslee
Gov. Inslee announced Thursday updated metrics for regions to advance out of Phase 1.

Inslee’s mid-course correction comes as minority Republicans in the Legislature have been pushing a bill that would automatically move all regions of the state into Phase 2. On Wednesday, Republicans tried, but failed to force majority Democrats to take action on the measure.

On Thursday, in advance of Inslee’s announcement, Senate Republican Leader John Braun and Sen. Jeff Wilson, the ranking Republican on the Senate State Government and Elections Committee, reiterated their call for a wide scale reopening.

“While we are encouraged by the possibility that the governor will reopen more of Washington’s businesses, we need to use science to safely open businesses immediately,” the senators said in a joint statement.

This story has been updated.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."