Washington Gov. Jay Inslee speaks at a news conference Tuesday at the Capitol in Olympia. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee speaks at a news conference Tuesday at the Capitol in Olympia. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Inslee’s new path for reopening economy could be long, bumpy

Snohomish County’s fate is linked to King and Pierce counties. Regions can move forward — and backward.

OLYMPIA — Restaurants may soon be serving indoors again in Washington. Bowling alleys, movie theaters and card rooms might be welcoming customers back inside, as well.

But probably not as quickly in Snohomish County as elsewhere.

Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday announced a change in the state’s approach to reopening to ease some COVID-19 restrictions in areas where the rate of coronavirus infections and hospitalizations are flat or declining.

The new blueprint, dubbed “Healthy Washington,” aims to restart parts of the economy and public life in stages, starting Monday. But what the governor rolled out outlines only two phases and keeps restrictions on most retailers in place for the foreseeable future.

“We know we can’t reopen every business today,” Inslee said in an online news conference, but this will be a road map to do that.

Where previous plans used a county-by-county approach to reopening, Healthy Washington breaks the state into eight regions. Snohomish County is part of the Puget Sound region, with King and Pierce counties.

Inslee settled on the approach because, he said, “We know viruses do not respect county boundaries.”

To advance, a region must collectively show, over two weeks, 10% decreases in both case rates and hospitalizations, as well as ICU occupancy at less than 90% and a test positivity rate under 10%.

Each region is starting in the first phase. State health officials will evaluate data weekly and determine on Fridays if a region can advance to the second phase. And, they cautioned, a region can go backwards if those metrics trend in the wrong direction.

“The numbers will tell the tale,” Inslee said.

Some regions could move to the second phase as early as Monday, officials said.

In Phase 2, restaurants can reopen with a maximum of 25% capacity and a limit of six people per table. Also, indoor movie theaters, bowling alleys, card rooms, aquariums and museums can reopen with up to 25% occupancy.

Inslee’s new approach keeps in place indefinitely other restrictions imposed in November that were to expire Monday. Those rules require grocery stores and retailers, along with hair salons, barber shops and tattoo parlors, to continue to limit the number of customers they serve at any one time.

Inslee said additional phases will be added, but he did not say when.

Snohomish County isn’t likely to find itself reaching the second phase right away.

After two weeks of declining case counts in December, the county’s rolling transmission rate ticked upward from 329 new cases per 100,000 residents to 350 per 100,000.

November and December were the deadliest months of the pandemic in Snohomish County. And hospitalizations from the virus remain high.

“It seems clear to me that at least in the central area, we’re nowhere close to really easing up restrictions and are not headed in the right direction fast enough,” Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers said during a Tuesday media briefing. “So quite positive, in our area, those restrictions will remain in place.”

Local health officials are hopeful the virus’ third wave in the county may have peaked, but it’s too early to tell.

“Right now, we’re really relying on everybody to continue doing all the things we’ve been asking since the start of the pandemic,” Snohomish Health District officer Dr. Chris Spitters said during a separate Tuesday media briefing.

That includes wearing a mask around anyone not in your household and limiting social gatherings.

“We’re seeing some signs that disease growth has slowed, has even leveled off in many communities,” said Dr. Umair Shah, the state’s new secretary of health.

This new approach, he said, “is a path forward to allow us to balance the fight against COVID-19 and saving as many lives as we can with reopening the economy and getting as many people vaccinated as possible.”

The leader of a statewide restaurant group blasted the plan, noting that Washington residents and business owners are tiring of living under some of the most restrictive limits of any state in the nation.

“Today’s announcement is not a roadmap to recovery. It is a roadmap to a near-complete collapse of main street neighborhood restaurants and hospitality businesses,” Anthony Anton, president and chief executive officer of the Washington Hospitality Association, said in a statement.

“We will be talking with our members immediately to get a sense of how they would like to proceed, as this plan is not acceptable to the thousands of small businesses whose livelihoods are hanging in the balance and the hundreds of thousands of employees who depend on us,” he said.

Inslee, as he has throughout the pandemic, said the tough approach has resulted in a lower infection rate and fewer deaths in Washington compared to other states.

“We’re saving lives here … by the thousands,” he said.

Herlald reporter Jerry Cornfield: jcornfield@heraldnet.com | @dospueblos

Talk to us

More in Local News

People line up for COVID-19 vaccinations at Paine Field in Everett. (Snohomish County Emergency Coordination Center)
Drive-thru vaccination clinics open in Everett and Lynnwood

More sites are planned as Snohomish County gets closer to broadening who is eligible for a shot.

Jay Inslee takes the oath of office for his third term as governor. (Governor Jay Inslee)
Governor Inslee: We are going forward toward a ‘new normal’

At the start of an historic third term, the governor is charting a course out of the pandemic.

Man expected to survive shooting at Everett bus stop

Everett police arrested a suspect around 3 a.m. Thursday off Airport Road.

In this image from video, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., speaks as the House debates the objection to confirm the Electoral College vote from Pennsylvania, at the U.S. Capitol early Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. (House Television via AP)
Washington lawmakers explain why they voted to impeach Trump

Nine of Washington’s 10 U.S. representatives supported impeachment. Cathy McMorris Rodgers voted no.

The Everett Music Initiative team, (from left) Ryan Crowther, Nate Feaster and Michael Hannon. (Everett Music Initiative)
A step toward keeping music alive in the pandemic, beyond

With Snohomish County Music Project as fiscal sponsor, Fisherman’s festival group can get donations.

Senate members stand as a ceremonial presentation of colors is done virtually on a video screen above Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. Washington state's Legislature convened Monday under a large security presence because of concerns about efforts by armed groups who might try to disrupt the proceedings or occupy the Capitol, which is closed to the public due to the ongoing pandemic. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Session begins with social distancing, heightened security

An Everett man arrested as lawmakers prepared for the session, which will focus on the pandemic.

Project Roxy is a proposed 2.8 million square foot distribution center that would be built on a 75-acre parcel at the Cascade Industrial Center. The rendering depicts the proposed project at 4620 172nd Street in Arlington from a northwest perspective.
Arlington leaders won’t say if Amazon is behind huge project

Officials say they’re under a non-disclosure pact until permits are issued for a five-story, $355 million project.

Snohomish Delivers concierge Sarah Dylan Jensen picks up tea from Everything Tea on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2020 in Snohomish, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
A Snohomish service brings goods from the store to your door

Developed by the city, Snohomish Delivers encourages online shoppers to look local. And it’s free.

A discarded face mask lies on the sidewalk across the street from Everett High School last December. (Sue Misao / The Herald)
3 local school districts ask for vaccines for all staff ASAP

Edmonds, Everett and Mukilteo superintendants hope to reopen classrooms sooner. The state says it doesn’t have enough doses.

Most Read