Calling it “a new way to move the state forward economically” while controlling the pandemic, Gov. Jay Inslee announced a plan Tuesday for reopening the state after the latest rounds of COVID-19 lockdown that will return Washington to a phased approach for allowing things like in-person service at restaurants, fitness activities, and limited attendance at sporting events.
Starting with two phases and with additional phases to be added, Inslee said reopening the state will again be based on a set of metrics including the latest trends for new cases and area hospital readiness. But unlike the summer’s phased, county by county reopening, Seattle and the state’s cities will have their fates tied to a new regional approach.
Seattle and King County are part of the Puget Sound region along with Snohomish and Pierce counties.
- Central: King, Pierce, Snohomish
- East: Adams, Asotin, Ferry, Garfield, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Spokane, Stevens, Whitman
- North: Island, San Juan, Skagit, Whatcom
- North Central: Chelan, Douglas, Grant, Okanogan
- Northwest: Clallam, Jefferson, Kitsap, Mason
- South Central: Benton, Columbia, Franklin, Kittitas, Walla Walla, Yakima
- Southwest: Clark, Cowlitz, Klickitat, Skamania, Wahkiakum
- West: Grays Harbor, Lewis, Pacific, Thurston
Inslee said the new regional approach was shaped by the state’s health care systems and the way the virus spreads and that the previous process requiring counties to apply to enter a new phase will be left behind.
“The numbers will tell the tale,” Inslee said.
UPDATE: Seattle Public Schools are also making a plan to get back into motion announcing Tuesday the district will invite pre-K through 1st Graders back for in-person attendance beginning March 1st while the system’s remote learning options remain in place. The full announcement is below.
Requirements for moving to a new phase will include 10% decrease trend over 14 days, 10% decrease in COVID hospital admission rate, ICU demand below 90%, and test positivity below 10%.
Assessments will be done on a weekly basis and there will also be thresholds that trigger a demotion to a previous phase if conditions worsen in a region.
Current measurements for King County and its other Puget Sound region counties wouldn’t immediately qualify the area for the first reopening phase when the new system goes into effect starting January 11th.
The first step of loosening in Phase 2 will include indoor dining returns at 25% capacity, plus live entertainment and some live sports with extremely restricted attendance, plus the return of some fitness activities currently restricted.
A region’s phase will be determined by the Department of Health (DOH) in response to four metric requirements. The final metrics for regions will be calculated on Friday, January 8 and will be effective January 11.
To go forward from Phase 1 to Phase 2, regions must meet all four metrics:
- Decreasing trend in two-week rate of COVID-19 cases per 100K population (decrease >10%)
- Decreasing trend in two-week rate new COVID-19 hospital admission rates per 100K population (decrease >10%)
- ICU occupancy (total — COVID-19 and non-COVID-19) of less than 90%
- COVID-19 test positivity rate of <10%
To remain in Phase 2, regions must meet at least 3 metrics:
- Decreasing or flat trend in two-week rate of COVID-19 cases per 100K population
- Decreasing or flat trend in two-week rate new COVID-19 hospital admission rates per 100K population
- ICU occupancy (total — COVID-19 and non-COVID-19) of less than 90%
- COVID-19 test positivity rate of <10%.
Regions that fail to meet two or more of the above metrics will be moved back to Phase 1.
All regions will begin in Phase 1, because of current metrics.
Phase 1, for the most part, aligns with restrictions current in place for most counties today, with a few key exceptions. Indoor fitness and outdoor entertainment, for example, were both previously prohibited, but will now be permitted with restrictions.
Currently, all indoor fitness is entirely prohibited. DOH now believes that the state can safely allow appointment-based fitness and training where there is no more than 1 customer per room or 500 square feet for large facilities. This will allow gyms to schedule people wanting to come in to work out in a safe way to ensure activity during winter months. Masks and physical distancing are required.
Outdoor entertainment establishes will be permitted to reopen in Phase 1, including zoos, outdoor theaters and concert venues, and rodeos, among other outdoor venues. Operation must be by ticketed event only with groups of 10 maximum with a limit of two households. Timed ticketing is required, as well as facial coverings and physical distancing.
Indoor gatherings and indoor dining remain prohibited. Outdoor dining with a maximum of six and limit for two households per table is permitted with an 11:00 PM close.
Retail, worship services, personal services, and professional services — where remote work isn’t available—are limited to 25% capacity.
Once a region meets all four required health metrics for three of the four past weeks, they will be permitted to move from Phase 1 to Phase 2. This phase sees some relaxation in regulations, but masks and physical distancing are still required statewide for all activities.
Indoor social gatherings with people outside of the household begins being permitted in Phase 2 with a max of 5 people from outside the household and limit of two households. Outdoor social gatherings maximum in this phase is increased to 15 individuals from two households.
In Phase 2, indoor dining will be permitted with a maximum 25% capacity and an 11:00 PM close. All other indoor activities must also follow a 25% capacity limit. This includes retail, entertainment and groceries, as well as personal and professional services.
Indoor fitness must also follow the 25% capacity limit.
In Phase 2 moderate risk indoor sports and all sports outdoors gain flexibility to have league games and competitions, which will help ensure opportunities for kids to be active, which is especially important during winter months and as kids navigate virtual or hybrid schooling.
Outdoor entertaining may host groups of up to 15 with the two-household limit and an overall 75 person maximum. Wedding and funeral ceremonies and indoor receptions may take place following the appropriate venue requirements. Food and drink service limited to restaurant guidance.
The reopening plan comes after the state’s restrictions on businesses and gathering put in place as cases surged this fall were extended through January 14th. Officials have been concerned about a possible new spike in cases from the Christmas and New Year’s holidays but Tuesday Dr. Umair A. Shah, the state’s new Secretary of Health, was cautiously optimistic about some of the latest signs that the number of new cases is dropping and early progress on vaccinating the state’s frontline health workers is improving.
Only five other states have lower rates of COVID-19 per capita than Washington.
By the end of next week, Washington is planned to have received more than 500,000 doses –enough to vaccinate all of its “prioritized population” of high-risk workers in health care settings and people living in at-risk care facilities where the COVID-19 virus has done some of its deadliest, most terrible work.
Its next phase will also be health care and high-risk worker focused.
“Some communities in Washington state have already completed or are very near to completing vaccination of their high-risk workers in health care settings as outlined in current DOH guidance,” a vaccination update from the state sent on New Year’s Eve day reads . “We will be adding a second tier to 1A that allows for the vaccination of all other workers in health care settings once high-risk workers are vaccinated.”
The Washington Post tracker shows just under 100,000 have received their first vaccination here so far.
Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines approved by the CDD require two doses. Pfizer’s requires a three-week schedule while Moderna’s second shot should come four weeks after the first. A third vaccine from AstraZeneca is reportedly easier to store and transport but has not yet been approved in the United States.
Washington officials said last week they “are still working to finalize prioritization” for the rest of the first phase of distribution here and expect to release new guidance “shortly after the new year, so that communities can begin planning outreach and vaccination of these groups next.”
CHS reported here on how those phases are likely to play out into the spring — and beyond.
In the meantime, Washington health officials have introduced a new service you can use to find out if you might be eligible in the current vaccination phase or to alert you when criteria changes. You can register here.
UPDATE: Here is the full announcement from Seattle Public Schools on the March 1st start of in-person instruction for its youngest students:
Welcome to the new year. This is an important message about in-person learning and includes critical information and required next steps for your family.
SPS will bring back students in preschool through first grade, and students enrolled in Special Education Intensive Service Pathways (SEL, Moderate Intensive, Focus, Distinct and Medically Fragile), for in-person instruction starting on March 1, 2021. A 100% remote learning option will still be available for families who aren’t ready for their student to return to school buildings for in-person instruction.
We need your family to submit your child’s enrollment in either the in-person option or confirm if they will remain in the remote/online model. This decision only applies to this current 2020-2021 academic year.
Steps to Confirm your Child’s Plans:
- Later this evening on Jan. 5, you will receive an email from Qualtrics, our survey vendor, with the subject “Seattle Public Schools 2020-21 Intent to Return to In-Person [Name of Student].” You will receive an individual survey email for each SPS student in your household in grades Preschool through 1 or enrolled in a Special Education Intensive Service Pathway.
You must complete each individual survey by January 10. School principals and staff will be reaching out directly to families who do not respond. Families who don’t provide a choice for in-person or remote learning will remain in remote learning for the 2020-21 school year.
- In the Intent to Return to In-Person survey, families will also be asked about transportation and school meal needs. Feedback from qualified families will help us create bus routes and schedules to safely accommodate as many students as possible. Responses to meal service will help us plan appropriate staffing for each building.
Your family will receive a confirmation of your choices via email and robocall in early February.
Over these last many months, public health and the global medical community have learned a lot about the transmission of COVID-19. We are confident that while in-person learning will look different than in past years, the strong health and safety protocols we are successfully using at meal sites, childcare, and for in-person special education services have prepared us to return more students to our school buildings on March 1.
To learn more about the district’s preparation, health and safety protocols, and additional details about the in-person model, please visit our web feature story and FAQ https://www.seattleschools.
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