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Seattle set to move to Phase 3 of reopening with expanded capacity for restaurants, plus fans at Mariners opening day

With the state’s key COVID-19 metrics showing the spread of the virus has dropped to rates not seen since early fall, Gov. Jay Inslee announced that Monday, March 22nd will bring a further reopening of Washington’s economy and loosening of restrictions on large gatherings including professional and youth sports and “other outdoor spectator events.”

The loosened restrictions include allowing restaurants to increase the number of inside diners they serve to 50% capacity after just over a month of capacity capped at 25% after February’s Phase 2 reopening.

“Some of the hardest hit businesses in Washington will be able to return to 50% capacity as we continue on the road to recovery,” Inslee said in the Thursday announcement. “On March 22, we make one more step to beating this virus and rejuvenating our economy.”

Thursday’s announcement also included an accelerated time table for expanding the roster of those eligible for vaccination to include first responders, and key groups of essential workers including grocery employees and agricultural workers. Those groups will now gain eligibility five days earlier starting March 17th.


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Inslee’s announcement did not include a hoped-for addition. Despite allowing restaurants to expand capacities putting more food and drink workers in direct contact with mask-less patrons, Washington is not including dining industry workers in the first waves of essential workers eligible for vaccination. CHS reported here on the “honor system” in place to verify eligibility and the tough question Capitol Hill’s restaurant and cafe workers face as March 17th approaches.

Meanwhile, every county in the state will move into Phase 3 reopening effective March 22nd as the state’s plan transitions from a regional to a county by county approach.

Large counties like King County with more than 50,000 residents must maintain a 14-day average of new COVID cases at or below 200 per 100,000 residents, and a seven-day average of new hospitalizations per 100,000 at five or fewer to remain in Phase 3.

Smaller counties must maintain a 14-day average of new cases at 30 or fewer, and a new seven-day hospitalization average at three or fewer.

If at any point the statewide ICU capacity reaches greater than 90%, all counties will move back a phase. “The Department of Health always maintains the ability to move a county forward or backward at their discretion,” the state reminds.

Seattle and King County moved into the second phase of reopening to end January after the state lowered requirements amid the start of vaccinations.

In King County, key metrics show most measures at or near target levels:

 

Washington’s Phase 3 will allow up to 50% occupancy or 400 people maximum, whichever is lower, for all indoor spaces. “This applies to all industries and indoor activities currently allowed; restaurants, gyms and fitness centers and movie theaters, among others, may all increase their capacity,” the guidance reads.

Phase 3 will also mean the Mariners will likely have fans on April 1st’s opening day and the Sounders will host supporters when they begin play later in the month as in-person spectators will be allowed at stadiums for the first time since start of the pandemic lockdowns. Spectators will be allowed to attend outdoor venues with permanent seating with capacity capped at 25%. “Social distancing and facial covering are still required,” the state says.

There is also a Phase 3 allowance for large events like concerts —

The new phase also allows for up to 400 people maximum to attend outdoor activities, as well as events in indoor facilities — so long as 400 people does not exceed 50% capacity for the location, and physical distancing and masking protocols are enforced. Larger venue events are capped at 25% occupancy, or up to 9,000 people, whichever is less, and must follow spectator guidelines.

The state’s spectator guidelines (PDF) are available here.

Phase 3 changes are also in the works for other businesses and industries. State officials say those changes will be announced next week.

The Phase 3 shift comes as Saturday, the largest civilian-led vaccination site in the nation will open in the event center at Seattle’s Lumen Field. The massive 190,000-square-foot center is hoped to eventually scale up to serving around 150,000 people a week as officials look to push the city’s vaccination rate to 70%, the level believed to be necessary for Seattle to fully emerge from the COVID-19 crisis.

Seattle officials say efforts to reach vulnerable residents including communities of color have been successful here with at least 65% of those 65 years old and older in all parts of the city receiving at least one shot of vaccine.

Officials say existing vaccine supply will initially limit Seattle’s mega site at Lumen to operating two to three days a week, serving approximately 5,000 people weekly. The site is “prepared to significantly ramp up in April and May into the summer,” officials said Wednesday.

Sign ups begin now for appointments at the center, or the city’s other existing sites in West Seattle and Rainier Beach. More city sites are planned. You can sign up for the notification list here.

Meanwhile, Seattle’s response to the COVID-19 crisis is being lauded as a major success story with the lowest rate of death related to the virus of any major U.S. city. Seattle may have also benefited from its demographics and “high humidity,” the New York Times reports.


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Patty
Patty
1 month ago

Cool! Looking forward to progressing to normal. Great update!

Hillery
Hillery
1 month ago

I think nightclub-license taverns should be able to reopen too at reduced capacity but no dancing or frolicking. I mean people are drinking at tables at restaurants/bars with food licenses at 10pm and not eating food—so why can’t the night club license allow the same with restrictions. Again no partying and frolicking is in order yet but other cities don’t treat places without food quite this way.

MarciaX
MarciaX
1 month ago

I guess it’s only fair to give the mutant strains a fighting chance against those dreadfully effective vaccines. Let’s get those infection rates back up, Washington! We can do it!

yetanotherhiller
yetanotherhiller
1 month ago
Reply to  MarciaX

Everybody’s lookin’ for the brand new bug now,
Come on baby, do the Bolsonaro!
I know that you can catch it if you give it a chance now,
Come on granny, do the Bolsonaro!
It’s the most attractive virus that you’ve ever seen,
So drop your mask and distancing, start makin’ the scene,
Oh come on and do the Bolsonaro with me!

Pat
Pat
1 month ago

Excellent!

Eric
Eric
1 month ago

I had to google the name to be sure what “Lumen Field” was. Formerly known as “CenturyLink Field”, “Qwest Field” before that and originally “Seahawks Stadium” for those of you who also don’t keep up on such things.

Bob
Bob
1 month ago
Reply to  Eric

One change every ten years is too much for Seattleites

Nope
Nope
1 month ago

King county is at 86 per 100k. Germany is talking about a third wave at 70 per 100k. But let’s open everything up again. Round we go.

The seven-day average of infections per 100,000 people in Germany rose to 72.4, having fallen below 60 last month. The government has set a threshold of 35 for relaxing more of the restrictions imposed on social interaction.