FILE — Inslee man in the mirror

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is reflected in a video monitor as he walks past a staff member while arriving to speak at a news conference Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021, at the Capitol in Olympia.

(The Center Square) – Several Washington counties face a move back into a more restrictive phase of Gov. Jay Inslee’s COVID-19 recovery plan. 

The Washington State Department of Health is reevaluating the state’s COVID-19 data, deliberating whether counties in Phase 3 of public health guidelines need to be knocked back into the more restrictive Phase 2 classification. 

The agency moved three counties – Cowlitz, Pierce and Whitman – back to Phase 2 on April 16. It was reassessing public health data Monday and will announce any changes Tuesday. The state will reexamine metrics again in late May. 

County and state health officials have been warning about increasing cases and hospitalizations in recent weeks. Inslee warned of “COVID 2.0” last week in the form of different variants of the coronavirus that now are prevalent in the state.

“Our ICU units will become strained,” he said. “We will lose the ability in hospitals to get elective surgery. We will not have the ability to get ordinary care if our hospitals get overwhelmed.”

About 30% of the state’s residents were fully vaccinated as of last week. More than 5.2 million doses of the vaccine have found arms.

For a large county to remain in Phase 3 of Inslee’s restrictions, it must meet one of the two requirements: maintain fewer than 200 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population per 14 days or fewer than seven hospitalizations per 100,000 population over seven days. Smaller counties must have fewer than 100 new infections over 14 days or under three new hospitalizations over a rolling seven-day period.

If the state moves counties from Phase 3 to Phase 2, businesses would be reduced to 25% capacity, down from 50% now. The restrictions would hit the state’s business community as it attempts to recover from last year’s shutdowns.

“Small business owners across Washington state are bracing for bad news as they await Governor Jay Inslee’s announcement this afternoon about which counties will be downgraded from Phase 3,” said Patrick Connor, director of the National Federation of Independent Business’ Washington chapter. “There has been almost no predictability in status changes given the governor’s record of last-minute modifications to which health metrics apply, and how they are weighted.”

Connor said the Washington Legislature’s refusal to check Inslee’s emergency powers will “deprive thousands of small business owners, and the families they support, of many more weeks of paychecks, and further delay our state’s economic recovery.”

The state has reported 404,709 cases of COVID-19 infection as of April 30, attributing 5,499 deaths to the disease.

Regional Editor

Cole Lauterbach is a regional editor for The Center Square covering Arizona, California, Oregon, and Washington. For more than a decade, Cole has produced award-winning content on both radio and television.