Gov. Jay Inslee smoothed the path Friday for counties to reopen stores, restaurants, beauty salons and other businesses that had been shuttered for weeks under an emergency order aimed at blunting the spread of coronavirus.
That order, issued in March, will not be extended when it expires May 31. The state is pivoting its recovery strategy to let counties reopen at their own pace if they are equipped to test, treat and contain outbreaks of coronavirus in their communities.
There will be restrictions and a new statewide requirement for workers to wear masks and to encourage customers to do so, as well.
Starting June 1, any county can apply to the secretary of health to advance through the state’s four phases of reopening as long as they’ve been in their current phase for at least three weeks. An application will be reviewed against a new set of metrics covering the rates of new infections, the number of tests conducted and the capacity of local hospitals.
“Now this does not mean, obviously, that we will return to normal,” Inslee said. “It means that three months to the day that we declared a state of emergency, we’re successfully moving forward.”
On Friday, the cumulative count of cases in Washington stood at 21,071, with 1,111 deaths since the outbreak began in January. The King County health department reported 8,054 cumulative cases and 556 deaths.
Inslee issued the statewide stay-home order March 23. It shut down non-essential businesses, closed places of worship and prohibited large gatherings. Earlier this month, he extended it through May 31 and laid out a plan for fully reopening the state in four phases.
He also created a path for counties with few new infections and adequate hospital resources to graduate from the first phase. So far, two thirds of Washington counties — 26 — have been allowed to do so.
In the second phase, restaurants can operate up to 50% capacity, and retailers can conduct in-store sales. Barbershops, beauty salons and pet groomers can reopen. Nannies, house cleaners and real-estate firms can return to work, too.
The new rules released Friday by the state Department of Health will make it easier for King County, which otherwise might not have met the state’s standard. Previously, counties applying to move to Phase 2 had to have fewer than 10 new cases of the virus per 100,000 residents over a two-week span. The new benchmark is 25 cases per 100,000 residents in that time frame.
Other standards for the second phase include specific targets for hospital bed capacity and personal protective equipment like masks, gowns and gloves. The county must also be able to make testing available and accessible to everyone in the county who shows symptoms, and to have the ability to rapidly trace contacts of those exposed to anyone who tests positive.
Under the new rules, the state secretary of health can move a county back to an earlier phase if large outbreaks of the virus occur.
And as the state and county move to reopen, you’ll also see more people wearing masks, Inslee said.
Starting June 8, all workers statewide must wear a face covering, unless they have no in-person interactions.
“You might think of it as a badge of commitment to keep each other safe,” Inslee said. “The more we all do this, the faster we’re going to be able to get back to normal and reopen all of our activities across our state.”