Governor announces two-week pause reopening phases

Every county in the state will remain in its current phase

Gov. Jay Inslee today announced a two-week pause on movement in the Healthy Washington: Roadmap to Recovery reopening plan. Under the pause, every county will remain in its current phase. At the end of two weeks, each county will be re-evaluated.

Clark County is currently in Phase 3 of the reopening plan. Phase 3 allows for indoor gatherings of up to 10 people from outside each household and up to 50 people for outdoor gatherings. Eating and drinking establishments are allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity.

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Gov. Jay Inslee today announced a two-week pause on movement in the Healthy Washington: Roadmap to Recovery reopening plan. Photo by Jacob Granneman

The governor said his decision was made in consultation with the Department of Health, and reflects current data suggesting Washington’s fourth wave has hit a plateau.

“We are at the intersection of progress and failure, and we cannot veer from the path of progress,” Inslee said Tuesday. “Our economy is beginning to show early signs of growth thanks to some of our great legislative victories and we know vaccines are the ticket to further reopening — if we adhere to public health until enough people are vaccinated.”

In Gov. Inslee’s reopening plan, counties are individually evaluated every three weeks. The evaluations usually take place on Mondays with any phase changes taking effect on Friday. Only three counties in Washington — Cowlitz, Pierce and Whitman — are in Phase 2. The rest of the state is currently in Phase 3.

Each county is divided into a small county or large county category. A large county is defined as a county with a population of greater than 50,000. Clark County currently has a population of 488,000.

Counties must meet at least one of the county-based metric thresholds in a given phase in order to remain in that phase. Counties that no longer meet both metrics will move back one phase. Counties that meet both county-based metrics of a higher level phase can move forward one phase.

The metrics for large counties include:

• Less than 200 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population per 14 days.

• Less than five new COVID-19 hospitalizations per 100,000 population per 7 days.

Clark County Public Health Director Dr. Alan Melnick said Monday, prior to the governor’s announcement of the two-week pause on phases, it appeared that Clark County would be allowed to remain in Phase 3.

Melnick said that Clark County had exceeded just one of the governor’s two metrics outlined in his Healthy Washington: Roadmap to Recovery phased reopening plan. 

“I’m pretty sure we will be above 200 cases per 100,000 population for the 14-day evaluation period,’’ Dr. Melnick said Monday. “But, I’m pretty sure we’re below five new hospitalizations per 100,000 population for the 7-day period. I will wait to see what the state comes up, but the last time I looked at it, I think we were at about 3.8. So, we will be OK on the hospitalization metric and we won’t move back.’’

For the past several weeks, epidemiologists have been following the state’s fourth COVID-19 wave, which now appears to be leveling out. The fourth wave has been less severe and case counts and mortalities have not been tied in rates of increase as they have in the past.

“The two-week pause provides time to see which direction we are heading and whether we are turning the corner on the 4th wave while we continue to do everything we possibly can to get more people vaccinated — especially younger adults — to decrease future risk,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer, Public Health — Seattle & King County. “Our best path out of the painful cycle of COVID-19 resurgences and restrictions — and for a return to normalcy as quickly as possible — is by getting vaccinated as soon as possible. As more people get vaccinated, the number of infections and hospitalizations will go down and all of us will be safer.”

The changes in data throughout the fourth wave have been attributed to increasing vaccination rates, shortening hospital stays and lessening the severity of the illness. The state’s early vaccine prioritization has also been tied to improved data and decreasing mortality rates in the state’s most vulnerable populations.

“Vaccines are one of the most important tools we have to fight this pandemic,” said Umair Shah, MD, MPH, secretary, Department of Health. “This ‘pause’ will allow our partners to advance their efforts to vaccinate individuals, families, and work with businesses to continue to reopen safely.”

Vaccines are now available to all Washingtonians 16 and up. To find an appointment, visit VaccineLocator.doh.wa.gov.

“While we’re pausing today, it doesn’t mean we have a clear path out of these phases either. We have a choice in these next couple weeks to get vaccinated and take more control over the course of this pandemic,” Inslee said. “If we can do the right thing together, we can pull through. I am confident and believe that if more people continue to get vaccinated and mask up, we can get our numbers down.”

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