A waiter at Ivar’s Seafood packages food inside an outdoor dining tent on Dec. 9 in Mukilteo. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

A waiter at Ivar’s Seafood packages food inside an outdoor dining tent on Dec. 9 in Mukilteo. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

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Restaurant reprieve: State to relax some indoor restrictions

Starting Monday, folks can dine out, bowl and go to movie theaters in much of the Puget Sound region.

OLYMPIA — Restaurants can resume indoor dining on Monday in Snohomish County under revised rules for reopening certain businesses announced by Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday.

Bowling alleys, movie theaters and card rooms will also be allowed to welcome customers back inside.

Inslee laid out a series of changes to “Healthy Washington,” his latest recovery plan, which was unveiled Jan. 5. It 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.

“We think this is a really good day in the state of Washington,” Inslee said at a news conference. “With these new metrics, we have now allowed half the state to move forward.”

Per the updated guidelines, the Puget Sound region, which includes Snohomish, King and Pierce counties, can advance on Monday to Phase 2 of Healthy Washington.

“I appreciate the governor’s leadership during this difficult time and know this adjustment will allow our businesses and workers to more quickly get back to what they do best: providing goods and services to our community,” Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers said in a statement. “Our small businesses are key to our recovery. Too many of them are struggling because of the pandemic, and the best thing we can do is allow them to get back to work as soon as it’s safe to do so.”

In Phase 2, restaurants can reopen at a maximum 25% capacity and with 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. Under the current Phase 1, restaurants are limited to takeout service and outdoor dining.

To advance to a higher phase, Healthy Washington previously required a region to collectively show, over two weeks, 10% decreases in both case rates and hospitalizations, as well as ICU occupancy of less than 90% and a test positivity rate under 10%.

Regions will now only have to meet three of those four measures to move to a higher phase, allowing a greater degree of reopening, Inslee said.

The West region, which includes Grays Harbor, Pacific, Thurston and Lewis counties, will also qualify for Phase 2 on Monday.

Going forward, the state will evaluate each region’s metrics every two weeks, instead of the current weekly review.

If a region advances but later fails to meet any two of the four benchmarks, it would regress to the earlier phase.

“The numbers make these decisions, we don’t,” Inslee said.

Inslee provided no information on what a future Phase 3 might require or include.

Mike Faulk, Inslee’s press secretary, in an email said a Phase 3 or other changes are possible in the future, but for now it’s just a two-phase plan.

The move to Phase 2 also allows low- and moderate-risk indoor sports — volleyball, swimming and diving, bowling and gymnastics — and all outdoor sports may begin competition with limited spectators.

That could mean the return of prep sports across the county.

Athletic directors for Wesco, the conference that includes a majority of Snohomish County’s high schools, are to meet Monday to make a decision on a Feb. 22 start for fall sports. The season includes football, volleyball, girls swimming and diving, boys tennis, girls soccer and cross country.

The Emerald Sound Conference, which includes Granite Falls and Sultan high schools, plans to start football Feb. 10 and the rest of fall sports Feb. 15.

Inslee originally imposed the restrictions on businesses and commercial activity in November, when case counts shattered previous highs, locally and statewide.

In recent weeks, as the pandemic’s deadly third wave subsided, a steady drumbeat of calls for loosening restrictions came from lawmakers of both political parties, as well as hard-hit retailers and restaurants.

Inslee said “science and reason” led to the latest revisions.

A vaccine rollout which has seen roughly 550,000 people receive at least one dose was “a very significant part of our thinking,” the governor said. Decreasing transmission rates, and empathy for all the struggling business owners, also played a role in his decision to ease the plan’s requirements.

“We think it is the right moment to take this step,” Inslee said. “What we have done in Washington state has worked, and is working. The kind of decisions we have made, difficult as they are, have saved thousands of lives.”

Snohomish County’s step to Phase 2 comes as data show the area might be through the worst of the pandemic’s third wave.

November and December were the deadliest months in Snohomish County. And hospitalizations from the virus remained high earlier this month.

But during the 14-day period ending Saturday, the county recorded only 253 new COVID infections per 100,000 residents, the lowest rate since November. It stood at 376 per 100,000 a week ago.

Hospitalizations from the virus have nearly halved in recent weeks, from 100 to 110 to the mid-50s.

Deaths from the virus have slowed, as well.

Meanwhile, the state’s vaccination effort is picking up pace.

Statewide, more than 400,000 people have received their first dose, and another 70,000 are fully vaccinated.

The state’s daily average of doses administered has risen from about 15,000 to 40,000 in recent weeks.

The only thing holding that number back is supply, Inslee said.

In Snohomish County, more than 42,000 shots have been administered, with 20,000 people getting a dose last week.

On Friday, the Snohomish County Vaccine Taskforce is debuting a fourth drive-thru testing site at Arlington Municipal Airport.

But scheduling a vaccination is difficult. The limited slots are often filled within hours of being available.

Eligible residents can try and schedule an appointment at one of the county’s four drive-thru clinics in Everett, Lynnwood, Monroe and Arlington by calling 425-339-5278 or visiting www.snohd.org/564/COVID-Vaccine-Info.

To determine if you qualify for a shot, or to find other vaccine clinics, visit www.findyourphasewa.org.

Reporter Zac Hereth contributed to this report.

Joey Thompson: 425-339-3449; jthompson@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @byjoeythompson.

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