Inslee: Washington's new reopening plan based on regions, not counties

Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday announced a regional economic reopening plan, with some COVID-19 restrictions on entertainment and individual fitness training being eased next week, but prohibitions on indoor dining at restaurants and indoor gyms remaining.

The new guidelines, which will go into effect Monday, will require regions meet four metrics in order to move to the next phase, at which point restaurants and indoor fitness center can open indoor dining at 25% capacity, sports competitions can resume with limited spectators, and wedding and funeral ceremonies can increase their number of guests.

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Each Friday, the state Department of health will be looking at the regional case rates, hospital admission rates, ICU occupancy rates and test positivity rates. In order for a region to advance, they have to show: a 10% decreasing trend in case rates over a two-week period; a 10% decrease in COVID hospital admission rates in that same timeframe; an ICU occupancy rate that’s less than 90%; and a test positivity rate of less than 10%.

While in the first phase, some outdoor entertainment — limited to 10 ticketed guests — is allowed and appointment-based fitness training with one client per 500 square feet is also allowed, as are things like outdoor tennis instructions, gymnastics, and no-contact martial arts, as long as it is limited to five athletes.

More on COVID-19 in Washington

Inslee said more phases will be added as virus activity diminishes, and he noted the focus on the regional approach instead of the previous county-based plan.

"This makes sense not only from a public health perspective, but from a health care delivery perspective," he said at a news conference announcing the new guidelines.

The guidelines modify some of the restrictions that were put in place back in November as the state’s coronavirus cases were spiking. Those restrictions— which included the closure of bowling centers, movie theaters, museums, zoos and aquariums and limiting retail and grocery stores to 25% capacity — had been extended a few times before Tuesday’s news conference. Under the new guidelines, bowling centers, indoor museums, and aquariums can have limited attendance of private parties of no more than six people. Outdoor zoos, gardens and aquariums, as well as outdoor theaters or concert venues are limited to groups of 10.

In a statement, Washington Hospitality Association CEO Anthony Anton said the governor’s latest plan was a "roadmap to a near-complete collapse of main street neighborhood restaurants and hospitality businesses" and he pointed to social gatherings and holiday travel as the reason why the coronavirus is still spreading.

"We’ve now been shut down again for eight weeks and cases have only continued to grow," he wrote. "This demonstrates what we’ve been saying: You can achieve compliance in a business, but not in homes."

Department of Health Secretary Umair Shah Said that while there are sighs that disease growth has slowed in the state, he said there were still concerns.

"We’re still in the midst of this pandemic and we remain concerned about this virus, this pandemic and potential challenges that continue to be in the midst," he said.

The U.S. has recorded more than 20.9 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and over 356,000 deaths. There have been more than 246,000 cases in Washington state, and 3,482 deaths.

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.