OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee announced a new strategy for pandemic recovery Tuesday, allowing local economies to reopen on a regional basis as their COVID-19 statistics improve.
Currently, pandemic recovered is measured on a county-by-county basis, or by observing multi-county health districts like that in Chelan and Douglas counties. The Healthy Washington plan creates eight regions where coronavirus factors such as case rate, hospitalizations and available ICU capacity are observed.
Inslee said the new program operates on a “larger, richer, more robust evaluation system of these metrics.”
Those factors are already tracked by the state Department of Health. Regions would move into phases of greater reopening automatically, without having to file applications to the state. Likewise, regions where the viral situation worsens would be moved backwards, into greater restrictions.
“Every region will start in phase 1 today, given their metrics at the moment,” Inslee said in a Tuesday press conference.
Chelan, Douglas, Okanogan and Grant counties are bundled into a North Central region under the plan. Inslee said the grouping of counties reflects the existing healthcare systems serving those communities.
“We know that the virus does not respect county boundaries,” Inslee said. “This makes sense not only from a public health perspective, but from a health care delivery one as well.”
The measures would go into effect Monday, the same day the state Legislature comes back into session and the same week Inslee’s existing Safe Start program, also established by executive order early in 2020, is largely due to expire.
Businesses immediately effect by the transition to Healthy Washington are fitness centers. Nick Streuli, assistant director of external affairs with the governor’s office, said in Phase 1 gyms will again be allowed to offer appointment-based fitness and training, for no more than one customer or athlete per 500 square feet.
In a region that moves to Phase 2, restaurants may open indoor dining at 25 percent capacity, and indoor fitness centers may operate at the same capacity. More phases beyond Phase 2 would be introduced when Washington state effectively reduces the spread of COVID-19, Inslee said.
To advance to further phases, regions need to show a 10 percent decrease trend in new COVID-19 cases over the last 14 days; a 10 percent decrease in coronavirus hospitalizations; a regional intensive care unit occupancy rate of less than 90 percent; and test positivity — the percentage of all coronavirus tests performed that return a positive result — of less than 10 percent.