OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee gave the green light Thursday for 26 more counties to advance to the second phase of the state’s reopening strategy, a move that allows them to resume limited indoor dining and restart other areas of their local economies.
Snohomish County, one of seven to reach the phase Feb. 1, is standing pat.
Officials learned Thursday the county will remain where it is, despite a continuing downward trend in new COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths from the virus.
“The people of Snohomish County deserve all the credit for staying safe and keeping our positive momentum,” Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers said in a statement. “We expected to stay in Phase 2 and look forward to learning the parameters for Phase 3.”
“We know that people across our community continue to get sick and die; that many people are out of work and struggling to put food on the table; and that there still isn’t enough vaccine coming into the county to quickly vaccinate everyone,” he said. “We will continue to work with our partners on these pressing needs and ask everyone in our community to remain vigilant.”
Inslee’s latest recovery plan, “Healthy Washington,” aims to gradually restart parts of the economy and public life in stages, regionally, where the rate of coronavirus infections and hospitalizations are trending downward.
Under rules laid out in January, regions had to meet three of four metrics to advance: a 10% decreasing trend in case rates over a two-week period; a 10% decrease in coronavirus hospital admission rates in that same time frame; an ICU occupancy rate that’s less than 90%; and a test positivity rate of less than 10%.
Snohomish County, in the Puget Sound region along with King and Pierce counties, met the standard two weeks ago.
On Thursday, Inslee announced the East, North, North Central, Northwest and Southwest regions, which comprise 26 counties, will join the Puget Sound and West regions in the second phase on Feb. 14. That leaves six counties in the South Central region — Kittitas, Yakima, Benton, Franklin, Walla Walla and Columbia counties — stalled in Phase 1 for at least another two weeks.
“I hope people feel good about the progress we’re making in this state,” Inslee said at a news conference, adding that he hopes that last region could advance in two weeks.
Inslee was asked twice when details on a third phase would be available. Both times he said he didn’t know.
“I don’t have a date yet to give you,” he said. “Ultimately, we are going forward.”
Meanwhile, Inslee said the state’s vaccination rate continues to climb and roughly 1 million residents have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, with 200,000 of those people fully vaccinated. But Inslee acknowledged many people continue to be frustrated with the inability to get vaccinated, due largely to a lack of supply.
He cheered news that President Joe Biden had reached a deal for the U.S. to acquire several hundred million doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines in the next few months.
“This is ultimately our salvation,” Inslee said. “All we need is the vaccine. We can’t wait till it gets here.”
Also on Thursday, Inslee announced the state Department of Commerce will pour another $87 million into assistance for tenants struggling to pay rent and businesses trying to keep their doors open amid the pandemic. Those dollars will come out of the state’s Disaster Response Account.
Half the money will be dispersed through the Working Washington Small Business Grant program. There have been three rounds already, using prior allotments of federal relief. High demand led to funds being snapped up quickly each time.
In the latest round, for example, 29,000 businesses applied statewide, of which 2,080 were from Snohomish County. Of those, 580 were approved for a $12,500 grant.
The other $43.5 million will be funneled to counties and cities, which in turn will work with local housing providers to serve people who are unable to pay rent and utility bills. The approach will be similar to what transpired last year.
Money does not go to individual people. Rather, providers work with renters and landlords and eventually steer money to the landlord for a portion of unpaid rent.
In the next few days, another $565 million in federal funds will be available to assist businesses, renters and landlords. Those dollars are part of a $2.2 billion package which has passed the Legislature and will soon be delivered to Inslee for signing.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Jerry Cornfield: email@example.com | @dospueblos