FILE — Washington Gov. Inslee

Gov. Jay Inslee wears a makeshift mask as he speaks with media members while visiting inside Nourish Pierce County warehouse, where Washington National Guard members were packing food in response to the coronavirus outbreak Friday, April 3, 2020, in Lakewood, Washington.

(The Center Square) — Gov. Jay Inslee announced on Tuesday the state's new reopening plan that will be more devoted to kick-starting businesses than about curbing the pandemic.

The new plan includes two phases and divides the state into eight regions. Like prior phases of reopening established in 2020, the new metrics are based on case and positivity rates for COVID-19.

Unlike prior phases of reopening, the new metrics seek to promote overall declines in viral transmissions rather than holding counties accountable for seeing specific rates of transmission.

To progress to Phases 1 and 2, counties must see a 10% decrease in case rates per 100,000 people for two weeks straight and a positivity rate of 10%.

Counties must also see a 10% decrease over two weeks in new COVID-19 hospitalizations per 100,000 people and ICU occupancy of less than 90%.

To stay in Phase 2, counties must meet three of four criteria such as positivity rates of 10%, ICU occupancy rates of less than 90%, or flattening their two-week case and hospitalization rates by any amount.

The new metrics will take effect on Monday, January 11, and will see updates every Friday. Next Monday is also when Washington's extended shutdown ends.

Business restrictions under Phase 1 are mostly unchanged from the state's prior metrics with a few exceptions which require social distancing and face masks.

Indoor fitness centers may reopen by appointment only with one person per 500 square feet.

Outdoor zoos, theaters, concerts, and rodeos may also reopen for groups of 10 people maximum. Retailers and places of worship are capped at 25% capacity.

Under Phase 2, restaurants and bars may resume indoor dining at 25% capacity with last call at 11:00 p.m. Outdoor entertainment capacity is expanded to 75 people maximum.

The state's new health metrics also allow outdoor sports to resume, which the governor said will "help ensure opportunities for kids to be active."

In the first two weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, the state was averaging 2,726 new reported cases per week. Two weeks later, the state's weekly case rate shot up to 3,077 before declining to 2,194 cases per week by Christmas Day.

State officials worry Christmas festivities may see those numbers spike again.

“No one was untouched by the effects of the pandemic in 2020, many have and continue to suffer through no fault of their own,” Inslee said. “We aren’t out of this yet, but we are close to turning the corner on COVID-19 and this third wave of infection.”

Last week, the Department of Health reported the state had received more than 356,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses and distributed roughly 20% of them.

Washington has seen some 248,000 cases of COVID-19 and more than 3,500 deaths from the virus to date, according to DOH data.

State hospitals have seen another 15,000 COVID-19 inpatients since 2020 and the DOH reported by New Year's Day that Washington was averaging 100 new hospitalizations a week.

In past weeks, Inslee has also revised the advisory metrics for reopening school districts around the state as teachers still await vaccinations. Most students in the state are being taught remotely for the near future.

Most school districts including Seattle Public Schools have not committed to any bold change in their instruction models for at least the next several months.  

Teachers with the Seattle Education Association continue to push back against in-person learning while some polls suggest shifting attitudes among Washington parents. 

Staff Reporter

Tim Gruver is a politics and public policy reporter. He is a University of Washington alum and the recipient of the 2017 Pioneer News Award for Reporting. His work has appeared in Politico, the Kitsap Daily News, and the Northwest Asian Weekly.