Pierce County is one of three in the state that did not meet metrics to sustain a “Phase 3” designation in the state’s reopening plan, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Monday, April 12.
Pierce, along with Cowlitz and Whitman counties, were moved back into the second phase of the reopening plan. Counties in Washington have been in the third phase of the reopening plan since March.
The rollback affects capacity of businesses most, including restaurants. Those with indoor seating will be reduced to a 25-percent capacity, compared to the 50-percent capacity that establishments in Phase 3 were able to have.
In the announcement, the governor’s office stated the decision to roll back the three counties was not arbitrary and instead was based on the amount of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in those areas.
“These metric trends are driven by the virus and we must continue to do everything we can to sharpen our focus and keep COVID-19 activity down. We are so close to the end of the tunnel here — we have made tremendous progress and we must keep our focus,” Inslee said. “It’s like a football game; we have done 95 yards on a 99 yard-drive. We can’t let up now. These are not punitive actions; they are to save lives and protect public health.”
Inslee acknowledged that vaccination across the state has been a boon to the fight against the virus, but he added it was not the end-all for success against the pandemic.
“Vaccine is a crucial tool that will help us end the pandemic, but it isn’t the only tool, and we don’t yet have enough Washingtonians fully vaccinated to rely on this alone to keep our communities safe from the virus,” said Lacy Fehrenbach, deputy secretary for COVID-19 response with the state’s Department of Health. “We need to focus on lowering disease transmission in the next several weeks ahead as we continue our vaccination efforts in order to avoid a fourth surge of cases. This means wearing masks, watching our distancing and keeping gatherings small and outdoors.”
On Friday, April 9, Inslee announced updates to the Healthy Washington criteria. In order to move down a phase, a county now has to fail both metrics for case counts and hospitalizations.
In the previous plan, counties only needed to fail one of those metrics to move back a phase.
To stay in Phase 3, larger counties like Pierce that have a population over 50,000 people are required to have less than 200 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population over a 14 day period and have less than five new COVID-19 hospitalizations per 100,000 over a span of seven days.
For a larger county to stay in Phase 2, there can be between 200 and 350 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population over a 14 day period and between five and 10 new COVID-19 hospitalizations per 100,000 over a seven day period. If a larger county has more than that, they will revert back to Phase 1.
Legislative Republican leaders Rep J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, and Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, expressed frustration with Inslee’s decision to roll back the three counties.
“The governor is punishing people who have followed the rules and it will have devastating consequences for many families and businesses,” read a statement. “Through no fault of their own, people in these counties will now face more challenges and uncertainty in the weeks ahead. No county should be moving backward in our state’s reopening plan.”
In the statement, Wilcox and Braun said the governor’s decision is frustrating, especially because of the ongoing legislative session.
“That means state lawmakers who represent these counties had no say in the matter,” read the statement. “This is wrong. And it’s why we need emergency powers reform this legislative session — to bring the voices of the state lawmakers and the constituents they represent to the decision-making process.”
Requirements for spectator events at indoor arenas and event facilities in Phase 2 were also updated.
Capacity at indoor or outdoor spectator events in Phase 2 are limited to 25 percent of the seated capacity, or 200 people maximum, whichever is less. The capacity includes all performers, athletes or spectators, with the exclusion of facility employees.
Spectator groups that range in size from one to five people are allowed in all facilities, but 6 feet of social distance is required between groups.
Masks and facial coverings are required, unless the person is actively eating or drinking in an assigned seat. Lines for restrooms and concessions also must be marked to ensure 6 feet of distance between people.
At K-12 school sporting events, no concession sales are allowed, stated a news release.