(RICK BANNAN/Centralia Chronicle)
Washington counties will likely have an easier time phasing their way through the state’s reopening process as Gov. Jay Inslee on Friday announced new guidance allowing for greater flexibility for counties seeking to return to normalcy following the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a press conference, the governor announced a new set of criteria allowing counties to move into the second phase of “Safe Start Washington.” Washington State’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order is set to expire at the end of Sunday, though Inslee said he would be making another proclamation enacting the new criteria for allowance of business operations and gatherings to operate at limited levels.
The new criteria for counties includes:
• Having 25 or fewer confirmed COVID-19 cases per 100,000 of population over a 14-day period
• Flat or decreasing hospitalizations
• If data on COVID-19’s reproductive rate is available, having that rate at one or less
• Licensed hospital bed capacity at less than 80 percent, and less than 10 percent of that capacity being suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases
• Testing capacity available to show a 2 percent positivity rate, with a medium turnaround for testing at less than two days
For contact tracing:
• Having at least 90 percent of people who test positive be contacted by phone or in person within 24 hours of a test coming back
• Having 80 percent of close contacts reached by phone or in-person within 48 hours
The new criteria also has a requirement on outbreaks, which are defined as two or more non-household cases confirmed and linked within 14 days. Counties with less than 75,000 population must not have a single outbreak reported, while those between 75,000 and 300,000 may not have more than one reported weekly, those between 300,000 and 1 million may not have more than two reported weekly, and counties above 1 million population cannot surpass three outbreaks weekly.
Inslee said that counties not quite meeting the recommendations would be able to work with the state on coming up with procedures to put in place to move forward, calling the criteria “targets” for counties to hit.
Inslee noted that with 26 counties already in the second phase, some would be eligible to move into the third phase next week.
The governor also announced new requirements on facemasks. Beginning June 8, all workers must wear a face covering unless they are working alone. Employers will be required to provide face coverings, or workers may use their own.
Though not outright required, Inslee also noted that grocery stores would be required to put up “friendly reminder” signs encouraging customers to wear face coverings. He said that the evidence had proven facial coverings to be effective in preventing transmission of COVID-19.
“The more we all do this, the faster we are going to be able to get back to normal,” Inslee remarked.