Pierce, Cowlitz and Whitman counties moving back to Phase 2 of reopening plan

Three counties in Washington state - Pierce, Cowlitz and Whitman - have to roll back to Phase 2 of the state's COVID-19 reopening plan because of rising cases and hospitalizations, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Monday.

The changes will take effect Friday (April 16). 

"We are so close to the end of the tunnel here — we have made tremendous progress and we must keep our focus," Inslee said in a news release. "It’s like a football game; we have done 95 yards on a 99 yard-drive. We can’t let up now. These are not punitive actions; they are to save lives and protect public health."

"When we see increased rates of cases and hospitalizations, we need to act fast and do the right thing county-by-county to prevent more serious consequences from COVID-19 in our state," said Secretary of Health Umair A. Shah, MD, MPH. "That is why the tough decisions are being made and some counties are being moved back to Phase 2."

Under Phase 2, restaurants, gyms, worship centers and retail stores can operate at 25 percent capacity, and large gatherings are reduced to 200 people.

The announcement could impact graduation ceremony plans for counties that have to revert. Click here for more guidance from the state.

"These metric trends are driven by the virus and we must continue to do everything we can to sharpen our focus and keep COVID-19 activity down," Inslee said. "These are not punitive actions; they are to save lives and protect public health."

All of Washington’s 39 counties moved into Phase 3 of Inslee’s reopening plan in late March, meaning all indoor spaces — including indoor dining at restaurants, indoor fitness centers, and retail — have been able to increase capacity from 25% to 50%.

Up to 400 people are allowed to gather for indoor and outdoor activities in Phase 3 as long as physical distancing and masking are enforced.

Reopening map provided by Washington Department of Health

Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier said the rollback will be "devastating" for businesses still struggling to stay afloat.

"We're in a very different situation than we were during the third wave in December. The folks who are most vulnerable to really bad outcomes, our seniors, are mostly vaccinated. We don't have that hanging over us," he told Q13 News This Morning before the announcement was made. 

Dammeier said he and other Pierce County leaders are concerned the state's data doesn't match local numbers. Hospital leaders told Dammeier they are "stable and not at all concerned about their ability to deliver care to the community," he said.

Monday marked the first evaluation of case numbers since all counties advanced to Phase 3. Read the full report here:

Counties will be evaluated every three weeks, meaning the next announcement would be on May 3.

Initially, Inslee said any county that fails to meet one or more of the following metrics will move down one phase, but the guidelines have since been updated so counties will only move back a phase if they fail both benchmarks.

The standards are different for counties with fewer than 50,000 people.

If statewide ICU capacity reaches more than 90 percent, all counties will revert to Phase 1.

RELATED: Washington state businesses call on Gov. Inslee to pause plans to roll back some counties to Phase 2

To stay in Phase 3, 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. Under Inslee's plan, they would revert back to Phase 2 if they fail to meet both guidelines. 

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.

More than 350,940 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in Washington since the pandemic began and 5,322 people have died, according to the state health department. 

As of April 7, nearly 4 million doses of the vaccine have been given in Washington. About 33% of people in the state have received at least one dose and 21% of people are fully vaccinated.

On April 15, all state residents over age 16 will be eligible for a coronavirus vaccine.

Stay connected with Q13 News on all platforms:

DOWNLOAD: Q13 News and Weather Apps
WATCH: Q13 News Live
FOLLOW: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

The Associated Press contributed to this report.