OLYMPIA — The Seattle Mariners, Seattle Sounders and OL Reign will soon be able to welcome a limited number of fans to the stadium when they open their seasons, as the state prepares to move into a third phase of a COVID-19 economic reopening plan announced Thursday by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.
Under Phase 3, all indoor spaces — including indoor dining at restaurants, indoor fitness centers, and retail — can increase capacity from 25 percent to 50 percent. Larger events like concerts and graduation ceremonies will also be OK since up to 400 people will be allowed to gather for indoor and outdoor activities as long as physical distancing and masking are enforced.
The allowed 25 percent seating capacity for spectators — who must be physically distanced and wearing masks — comes a year after Inslee announced a ban on at sporting events as the pandemic took hold. The same capacity of spectators will be allowed at high school sports, motorsports, rodeos and other similar outdoor events that have permanent seating.
Expanded spectator capacity for high school and youth sports will start March 18, while the remainder will take effect on March 22, when all of the state’s 39 counties will move to a newly created Phase 3. Opening day for the Mariners is April 1, while the Sounders start their season April 16. OL Reign of the National Women’s Soccer League start May 15.
The Mariners said they have approval to host up to 9,000 fans a game, and Mariners chairman John Stanton said in a statement that the team is “thrilled to be able to welcome fans back to T-Mobile Park for the first time since 2019.”
Republicans and businesses have been pushing the governor for a Phase 3 plan for weeks, but Inslee said he wanted first to talk with businesses, health officials and others, as well as look at the status of the virus and progress in the state’s vaccination efforts before crafting a plan.
“We’re excited to take this step forward,” Inslee said. “We think there’s reason to be optimistic.”
Currently, all counties are paused in the second phase of the plan but will move to the third phase next week. Inslee also announced changes from the previous regional metrics that had to be met, moving back to a county-by-county assessment the state had previously used. He also changed the number of metrics that need to be met from four down to two.
In January, Inslee said regions needed to meet three of four metrics in order to advance and to stay in Phase 2: a 10 percent decreasing trend in case rates over a two-week period; a 10 percent decrease in coronavirus hospital admission rates in that same timeframe; an ICU occupancy rate that’s less than 90 percent; and a test positivity rate of less than 10 percent.
Now, in order to stay in Phase 3, counties just need to meet two metrics, and the metrics are different for counties that have fewer than 50,000 people.
Larger counties must have less than 200 new cases per 100,000 people over a two-week period and have fewer than five new COVID hospitalizations per 100,000 people over a one-week period. For 17 smaller counties — Klickitat, Asotin, Pacific, Adams, San Juan, Pend Oreille, Skamania, Lincoln, Ferry, Wahkiakum, Columbia, Kittitas, Stevens, Douglas, Okanogan, Jefferson, and Garfield — they have to have fewer than 30 cases over a two-week period and fewer than 3 new COVID hospitalizations over a one-week period.
Counties will be evaluated every three weeks, starting on April 12. If any county fails one or more of the metrics, they will move down one phase. If statewide ICU capacity tops 90 percent, all counties will move back to the most restrictive first phase, which includes a prohibition on indoor restaurant dining.
Another change from the previous plan is that people who are incarcerated in state or federal facilities will not count toward a county’s case rate. However, workers in prisons, jails, detention centers, and other correctional facilities will continue to count.
There have been 327,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Washington state, and 5,100 deaths. The state has seen a steady decline in new daily cases, hospitalizations and deaths since earlier this year, though health officials on Thursday expressed concern that the number of new cases have started to plateau. Officials also continue to be alarmed by an increased detection of the highly contagious variants of the virus in the state.
Inslee also moved up the timeline for the next group on the vaccination schedule. Originally the group that includes law enforcement and workers in agriculture and grocery stores was supposed to become eligible March 22, now they will be on March 17.
For most, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks, although long-term effects are unknown. But for some, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
The state has exceeded its goal of 45,000 vaccinations a day, with a current 7-day average of 46,119, More than 2.1 million doses of vaccine have been administered to date, and more than 10 percent of the state’s population has been fully vaccinated.