Vaccine eligibility will also expand earlier than expected, with an anticipated date of March 17 for Phase 1B, Tier 2
OLYMPIA — Starting March 22, all counties in Washington state will be allowed to move into Phase 3 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s Healthy Washington: Roadmap to Recovery plan.
The announcement came Thursday afternoon at a press conference in Olympia.
“Because of the progress we’ve made by decreasing our case rates and hospitalizations, as well as our tremendous efforts to get more people vaccinated, our reopening plan is once again based on counties, not regions,” Inslee said. “We are excited to take this step and we will keep evaluating our progress, and the impacts of these changes, to determine how and when we reopen further.”
Phase 3 will double capacity limits for many industries, including restaurants, gyms, fitness centers, and movie theaters. They will be allowed up to 50 percent capacity, or 400 people, whichever is less.
“Some of the hardest hit businesses in Washington will be able to return to 50 percent capacity as we continue on the road to recovery,” Inslee said. “On March 22, we make one more step to beating this virus and rejuvenating our economy.”
Phase 3 will also allow spectators at outdoor sports venues, with seating capped at 25 percent capacity, including high school sports. Most venues would be capped at no more than 400 people with larger venues, such as Safeco Field allowing up to 9,000 people.
Currently, all counties in the state will qualify to advance to Phase 3, Inslee said, with metrics checked every three weeks.
Larger counties, including Clark County, would need to maintain a COVID case growth rate of fewer than 200 per 100,000 people (currently 103), and a seven-day average of new hospital admissions at fewer than five per 100,000 people.
An increase of ICU bed capacity to greater than 90 percent would trigger an automatic move back one phase, according to the plan released on Thursday.
The governor noted that more details are expected next week for other industries, as well as further guidance on private gatherings.
Presently, the CDC recommendations allow for maskless gatherings of fully vaccinated people, but advise that masks and physical distancing should still be maintained if at least one of the individuals or couples is still unvaccinated.
Inslee said Thursday that the state believes at least 60 percent of the state’s 65-and-over population has received at least one dose of vaccine.
Vaccine eligibility expanding sooner
Inslee also announced that the state will be accelerating the next phase of the vaccine eligibility phase-in by five days, moving from March 22 up to March 17.
Phase 1B, Tier 2 of the vaccine rollout will include workers in agriculture, food processing, grocery stores, public transit, firefighters and law enforcement, among others. Tier 2 also includes people over the age of 16 who are pregnant and people with a disability that puts them at high risk.
As of March 8, Washington’s Department of Health says the state is averaging 46,119 doses administered per day, meeting the 45,000 daily goal set back in January. The state surpassed 2 million doses administered late last week, and shipments of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine are expected to pick up starting the week of March 21.
Despite the good news, health experts urged people to continue using caution.
“We know there is enthusiasm around opening of schools and businesses and that advancing to Phase 3 is welcome news to many Washingtonians,” said Lacy Fehrenbach, deputy secretary for the Department of Health’s COVID-19 response. “We want to keep going forward together out of the pandemic, and our success hinges upon wearing masks, washing our hands, watching our distance, keeping social circles small — and of course, getting vaccinated when it’s our turn. These are the things that will help us suppress COVID-19, which is the key to our continued forward progress towards recovery.”
Inslee described it like a boxing match, calling the vaccines a “left hook” for the virus, while we keep pummeling it with the right cross of masks, physical distancing, and proper hygiene.
“And we gotta keep pounding it until it’s down on the canvas, and can’t get back up again,” the governor said.