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Sept. 26, 2021

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Washington has officially reopened. Here’s what you need to know.

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The days of social distancing and limited indoor capacity are over.

On Wednesday, Washington state lifted most of its remaining coronavirus restrictions. Most businesses can operate as they did in early 2020 if they follow workplace safety requirements.

Gov. Jay Inslee will stop in Seattle on Thursday morning after visiting Spokane and Tacoma as part of a grand reopening celebration tour. Inslee’s pit stop will include all the classics: A speech at Pike Place Market and a “Washington Ready” flag hoisted above the Space Needle.

Washington is one of the last four states to formally reopen. Oregon is also reopening Wednesday and New Mexico will lift restrictions on Thursday. Hawaii will reopen once 70% of eligible residents are fully vaccinated.

The state did not reach its goal of having 70% of residents ages 16 and older with at least one shot before Wednesday. But it is close. As of Tuesday, 68.8% of eligible residents have initiated vaccination.

After more than a year of various coronavirus policies, phases and guidance, there are a lot of questions you might have about our reopened state. Here’s what you need to know.

Is social distancing over?

After June 30, there are no physical distancing requirements or capacity limits except for large indoor events, defined as any event with more than 10,000 people in an indoor enclosed space.

Negative tests or vaccine verification measures won’t be required, but are recommended for large indoor and outdoor events. Large indoor events that are not verifying vaccinations will be limited to 75% capacity. These events include sporting events, concerts or conventions.

What about masks?

The mask mandate is still in place for those who aren’t vaccinated, to protect children who are too young to receive a vaccine, or those with autoimmune or other health conditions that prevent them from getting vaccinated, according to the state Department of Health.

If you are fully vaccinated, state guidelines broadly align with mask guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that say masks are no longer required in outdoor spaces and most indoor spaces.

Masks are still required for “high risk congregate” settings like health care and long-term care facilities, jails, schools and public transit.

What’s new at restaurants and other businesses?

Before Wednesday, stores, restaurants, bars, places of worship and fitness centers were only allowed to operate at 50% capacity. Restaurants were also required to stop alcohol service by midnight, and outdoor seating was limited to a maximum of 10 people per table.

Those restrictions are no more. The state will also no longer actively encourage curbside pickup and remote work.

Indoor and outdoor establishments like bowling alleys, museums, zoos, aquariums and other venues are also no longer limited to a maximum of 50% capacity or 400 people (whatever was less).

Can businesses still require masks?

Yes. Washington DOH encourages a “respect the rules of the room” mindset and counties and businesses are welcome to institute related to masking, distancing and handwashing.

What are employers required to do?

According to the state’s Department of Labor and Industries, employers must make sure unvaccinated employees wear masks while indoors. Employers also must verify vaccine status with documentation or a self-attestation before allowing employees to not wear a mask.

Employers must also notify employees if they have had contact with someone who tests positive for the coronavirus and report outbreaks of 10 or more employees to the labor department.

What about sports?

Stadiums are no longer limited to 50% capacity. Washington teams will be back at full capacity for their first home games after Wednesday’s reopening:

  • July 2: Mariners against Texas Rangers; Storm against Atlanta Dream
  • July 7: Sounders against the Houston Dynamo
  • July 11: OL Reign against Kansas City

What about the variants?

World Health Organization officials have recently encouraged fully vaccinated people to continue wearing a mask as the delta variant, first detected in India, has spread. However that guidance does not agree with the recommendations from the CDC and Washington state officials.

DOH said Tuesday there are currently no plans to bring back strict mask requirements out of concern about the delta variant. However, Washington’s secretary of health did change the state’s masking guidance to say that those who are not fully vaccinated should continue to wear masks indoors.

According to the CDC, current data suggests that the vaccines authorized for use in the U.S. offer protection against most variants. But there is still limited information, and some variants may cause illness in fully vaccinated people.

Public health officials in Los Angeles County recently recommended that everyone regardless of vaccination status wear masks indoors.

Can I travel?

The state currently defers to the CDC’s travel advisory guidance, which encourages people to delay domestic travel until they are fully vaccinated. Travelers must wear a mask while in a transit hub or while on a plane, bus or train.

If you’re looking to go to Canada, nonessential travel is still off the table, at least until July 21.

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