OLYMPIA — Snohomish County could soon reopen barbershops, nail salons and some restaurant and in-store retail under a new coronavirus recovery plan announced Friday by Gov. Jay Inslee.
The new order will replace Inslee’s existing emergency stay-at-home order, which is set to expire on Monday.
Originally issued March 23, the stay-at-home order clamped down on businesses and social activity to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as the pandemic roared across the state and nation.
Inslee’s new proclamation is likely to accelerate efforts to reopen parts of Washington under the governor’s existing four-phase recovery plan.
Starting June 1, counties that have already accelerated their reopenings by moving to the second phase will be able to start applying for the third phase in the plan. The new directive allows the possibility for counties to advance partly toward a phase.
And it lays out new metrics that will help Washington’s large counties still in the first — and most restrictive — phase to reach the second phase.
“Under this new approach, counties will have more flexibility to demonstrate that they have the capability to stay on top of the virus,” Inslee said.
The new directive will also require workers at their jobs to wear facial coverings, unless they don’t have in-person interactions. That provision will take effect June 8.
But mainly, the new plan relaxes a key standard — the number of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 in a county over a 14-day span. That metric has prevented Washington’s largest counties — like King, Pierce and Snohomish counties — from moving to the second phase.
State officials in recent weeks have allowed some larger counties to move to the second phase if they have fewer than 10 new confirmed cases per 100,000 over that time span. Now, counties with fewer than 25 new confirmed cases per 100,000 across 14 days can apply to move to the second phase, as long as they also meet other criteria. That could potentially make Snohomish and Whatcom counties eligible, if their numbers are favorable enough.
Snohomish County officials — who even before Inslee’s announcement said they would apply to the state to reopen more quickly — said Friday their numbers may soon be low enough to meet the new standard.
In a statement Friday, Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards praised Inslee’s announcement and said Pierce County was also preparing an application to move to the second phase.
“While the clouds of COVID-19 still hang overhead, there is evidence that brighter days lie ahead,” Woodards said in prepared remarks.
It remains unclear when King County may qualify — and seek to apply — to move to the second phase.
The second phase allows a host of business activities to resume. Barbershops, hairstylists nail salons and tattoo artists, can start back up, with protective measures against the virus. Other personal and professional services can similarly go back to work. Restaurants can seat diners with limitations on capacity and table size, and some in-store retail purchases can be made.
Inslee’s new order will also allow counties to ask Secretary of Health John Wiesman on June 1 for permission to move to the next phase in reopening from whatever phase that are currently in. Wiesman has been making the final decisions for allowing counties to open up more quickly.
That means the 26 counties currently in Phase 2 could then apply to the Phase 3, which further loosens restrictions on businesses and allows some non-essential travel.
And the new proclamation also affords the flexibility for counties to move partly into the next phase. That means a county in the first — and most restrictive phase — could ask to add some second-phase activities.
Snohomish County had been well short of meeting that original threshold. The county had a rate of 30 cases through last week and the prior week.
Even before Inslee’s announcement, county officials had planned to apply to move to the second phase anyway. And they believe they are on track to bring that number down to a rate of about 18 during the next couple of weeks.
The decision to move forward was something Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers discussed on a call with the governor’s office, the cities of Everett and Seattle and King and Pierce counties on Tuesday.
The move to Phase 2 was solidified once the Snohomish County Council approved the use of $143 million from the CARES Act, allowing the county to fund the quarantine center at the Angel of the Winds Arena in downtown Everett through the end of the year, continue diagnostic testing, contact tracing and secure more protective equipment.
County officials are also betting on Snohomish County residents to do their part by limiting their contact with other, practicing social distancing, wearing masks in pubic and practicing good hygiene.
“The success of moving into Phase 2 really depends on the good will of our citizens,” Somers said during a press briefing Friday morning.
The Snohomish Health Department had already been preparing a variance application because it wanted to be ready when the time came and because case rates have been trending in the right direction and there is enough capacity at area hospitals to handle COVID-19 patients, said Dr. Chris Spitters, the county’s health officer.
Despite missing on the case rate criteria, Spitters said he is comfortable with the county’s situation, equating the decision to move forward to that of taking care of patient where many factors are taken into account to determine treatment.
“Although we may not have a bright green light on every indicator we’re well positioned to do well going forward and suppress transmission and have a successful venture into Phase 2,”
Somers said he has been in daily contact with Inslee’s office but hasn’t been given any assurance the move to the next phase will be approved.