WA virus order expiring, counties get more flexibility

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Friday announced he would not extend the state’s COVID-19 stay-at-home order beyond Sunday and would allow counties more flexibility to apply to advance through the current four-phase reopening plan using updated benchmarks that some larger counties had been seeking.

The stay-at-home order — in place since March 23 — was set to expire Sunday night. With the addition of two more counties Thursday, 26 of the state’s 39 counties are currently approved for Phase 2, which allows restaurants and taverns to reopen at half capacity with limited table sizes, hair and nail salons and barber shops to resume business, and for retail stores to reopen for in-store purchases at 30% capacity. It also allows additional outdoor recreation and gatherings with no more than five people outside of a person’s household.

Initially, only counties with a population of less than 75,000 and no new cases of COVID-19 over three weeks could apply for a quicker reopening. But last week, Inslee modified those metrics, allowing those with fewer than 10 new cases per 100,000 residents over a 14-day period to apply for a variance from the order. Some larger counties, including Pierce and Snohomish, had argued the case count requirement was too strict and that their counties were ready to move to the next phase.

Now, starting Monday, any county can apply to advance to the next phase or to add new business activity, with the applications assessed on several targets, including whether the counties have had fewer than 25 cases per 100,000 residents over a two-week period.

Their application also will be measured on the reproductive rate of the virus in the county, hospital bed capacity, and number of outbreaks in workplaces and nursing homes. The counties also have to submit testing data and target number of confirmed cases and contacts reached in contact-tracing investigations. The guidance offered by the governor’s office said that the applications will be considered as a whole, and that not meeting one target won’t necessarily prevent the state from approving the county’s application.

Also Friday, Inslee announced that starting June 8, workers are required to wear facial coverings unless they don’t interact with others on the job. Employers must provided the needed materials to their employees. Face coverings aren’t required, but are strongly encouraged, to be worn by customers or others while in public.

More than 20,700 people in Washington state have tested positive for the coronavirus and at least 1,1106 have died. The virus causes mild to moderate symptoms in most patients, and the vast majority recover. But it is highly contagious and can cause severe illness and death in some patients, particularly the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.

A county that is still not eligible to advance beyond the first phase can apply for a “modified” Phase 1, which would allow some Phase 2 activities, like construction and manufacturing, and opening of restaurants with outdoor seating only, at 50% capacity, and in-store retail at 15% of capacity.

The new guidance builds on several restrictions that have been lifted over the past month, including fishing and golfing, the reopening of state parks and the resumption of existing construction. Earlier this week, Inslee announced that churches, mosques and synagogues can resume in-person services, with those in counties in the second stage of the state’s COVID-19 reopening plan allowed to have smaller in-building services and the remainder limited to outdoor services with no more than 100 people.

Once counties have been in Phase 2 for at least three weeks they can apply to move to Phase 3, which expands group gatherings to 50 or less, including sports activities, and allows restaurants to increase capacity to 75%. Gyms and movie theaters could reopen at half capacity, but nightclubs and entertainment venues will still remain closed during this phase.

Most public interactions resume in the final phase, with bars, restaurants and entertainment and sporting venues returning to their regular capacity.

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