OLYMPIA – Numerous counties that were headed to stricter pandemic rules, including Spokane and King, received a surprise Tuesday that they will not have to roll back to Phase 2 for at least two weeks.
Gov. Jay Inslee’s announcement is good news for restaurants, which will remain at 50% indoor dining capacity in Phase 3, said Visit Spokane spokeswoman Kate Hudson.
“Everybody in hospitality is breathing a sigh of relief,” she said.
No counties will change status in the state’s three-phase reopening plan as state officials review vaccination rates, COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
“We are in a constantly evolving situation, unlike any other time during the pandemic,” Inslee said.
The decision follows increases in cases and hospitalizations in the past month in many counties, including Spokane.
But Inslee said COVID-19 case rates are now plateauing statewide. And despite the current fourth wave of increased cases and hospitalizations, the number of deaths has not increased.
Spokane County was all but resigned to backslide to Phase 2.
In the last two weeks of April, Spokane County’s rate of 280 cases per 100,000 residents exceeded the 200-cases threshold required for counties to stay in Phase 3.
Hospitalizations have also increased in Spokane County in the past month, although new data from the health district Tuesday showed new admissions could be trending downward.
Last week there were 9.6 hospitalizations per 100,000 residents in Spokane County, but in the most recent week data is available, there are 5.9 hospitalizations per 100,000 residents.
As case rates begin to level, Inslee said he would expect hospitalizations to plateau in the coming weeks. Hospitalizations often lag two weeks behind case rates.
For the next two weeks, local health officers still have the ability to roll counties back if needed. Local health officials moved Ferry County back to Phase 2 last week after a super-spreader event.
Phase 3 means 50% capacity at restaurants, retail and businesses while Phase 2 means 25% capacity.
Businesses that don’t follow capacity limits will continue to receive fines, Inslee said. He said about 100,000 complaints have been filed over the course of the pandemic for restaurants, gyms and others who have not followed state guidelines. That has resulted in $7.3 million in penalties to date, according to his office.
Inslee said he didn’t know as of Tuesday whether reopening metrics or guidelines will change before counties are re-evaluated in two weeks. He said he is constantly looking at new science and data.
He said he was mindful of the frustrations many people feel with the ever-changing metrics, but because things change so quickly, Inslee said he is trying to remain flexible.
The biggest change this time is the number of vaccinations across the state, Inslee said. Everyone 16 years and up became eligible for a vaccine almost three weeks ago. If vaccination rates continue in the direction they’re going, Inslee said the state may see a more substantial reopening this summer.
“There is a reason to have hope,” he said, but it will be dependent on everyone receiving a vaccination.
To encourage more people to get vaccinated, Inslee issued new guidance Monday for venues and churches, allowing them to include vaccinated sections and non-vaccinated sections. The change would help some large venues increase their allowed attendance.
Inslee said the change may incentivize more people to get a vaccine, so they can sit close to people at a Mariners game or go to the state’s colleges, which are beginning to require vaccines for the next school year.
Local businesses ‘crossing fingers’ to stay in Phase 3 in two weeks
For the first time since March 2020, Baby Bar and Neato Burrito will open its doors on Wednesday.
After more than a year of waiting until they felt it was safe to reopen, co-owner Tim Lannigan said the pause in counties going backward felt like their chance.
When they open, they will follow every single guideline set out by the governor, Lannigan said. He expects to remind people often about masking and social distancing.
“Just follow the rules so we can be done with all of this,” Lannigan said.
If Inslee announces in two weeks that Spokane moves back to Phase 2, Lannigan said the restaurant will likely stay open with more restrictions but it’s too early to tell for sure.
“There’s no plan for all of this,” he said. “You just roll with the punches and see where it goes.”
Tom Ritchie, owner of Mary Lou’s Milk Bottle, said he is crossing his fingers that the county doesn’t roll back in two weeks. If they move back to 25% capacity, he said he’d have to lay off half his staff.
“As a restaurant owner, it’s not fair because they’re not getting COVID here,” he said.
Currently at 50% capacity, the restaurant has less than 20 tables. Ritchie said it’s frustrating to see metrics change so often, and now have to wait two weeks to see where the county ends up.
“I’m in limbo,” he said. “I’m stuck.”
HUB Sports Center Executive Director Phil Champlin said he is grateful the county is remaining in Phase 3.
“We are thrilled with the two-week pause because it gives youth an opportunity to continue to play and it will not put any new restrictions on what they’ve been able to do for the last month,” Champlin said. “It’s great that our kids will continue to have the opportunity to get out and work through the stress, anxiety and depression that has come on because of all the restrictions with COVID.”
Because Spokane County will remain in Phase 3, the Pacific Northwest Qualifier, a volleyball tournament co-hosted by the Spokane Convention Center and the HUB Sports Center, will continue as planned next week, Champlin said.
The Pacific Northwest Qualifier is one of Spokane’s largest events, bringing hundreds of visitors, all of whom will likely stay in area hotels and shop at local businesses over two weekends in May.
Here’s a look at local numbers
The Spokane Regional Health District confirmed 117 new COVID-19 cases and no additional deaths.
There are 70 people hospitalized with the virus in Spokane.
The Panhandle Health District confirmed 40 new cases and no additional deaths Tuesday.
There are 22 Panhandle residents hospitalized with the virus.
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