BELLINGHAM – Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Friday altered the criteria used to determine whether a county moves from one COVID-19 reopening phase to another, making it easier for counties to remain in their current phase.
Counties must now fail both metrics for case counts and hospitalizations in order to move back a phase, Inslee said in a news release. Previously counties could be moved backward by failing to meet one of those metrics.
For large counties — defined as those with more than 50,000 residents —to remain in Phase 3 they must keep a 14-day average of new COVID cases at or below 200 per 100,000 residents, and a seven-day average of new hospitalizations per 100,000 at five or fewer.
Smaller counties, those with populations of 50,000 or less, must maintain a 14-day average of new cases at 30 or fewer, and a new seven-day hospitalization average at three or fewer.
Inslee made the change in advance of an evaluation of each county’s metrics on Monday.
“Given the incredible progress on vaccinations and our focus protecting people from severe illness, we believe analyzing and requiring both metrics together is the right approach to make sure we’re considering the connection between COVID cases and our medical system and hospitalizations,” Inslee said in the news release.
All of Washington’s 39 counties are currently in Phase 3 of Inslee’s reopening plan, which allowed indoor spaces – including indoor dining at restaurants, indoor fitness centers, and retail – to increase capacity from 25% to 50%.
With COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rising in many areas, more than a half-dozen counties were at risk of rolling back before Inslee’s change.
Douglas, Cowlitz, Pierce, and Yakima counties are close to failing both metrics, KOMO-TV reported. If forced back to Phase 2, those counties would contend with tougher restrictions on gatherings, dining, spectator events and other social activities.
Any changes to a county’s phase status would take effect April 16. Large and small counties have different sets of criteria.
Vaccines are making a difference, Inslee’s said, but millions of Washingtonians still need to be fully vaccinated. Nearly 3.8 million people in the state have received one vaccine dose and more than 1.5 million people have been fully vaccinated, according to the state Department of Health.
About 60,000 doses are being administered daily, but people still have to be mindful of distance, wear masks, and keep gatherings small until virus activity becomes less of a threat, Inslee’s news release said.
More than 348,400 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in Washington since the pandemic began and 5,316 people have died, according to the state Department of Health.
All state residents over age 16 will be eligible for a vaccination on April 15.