One step closer to normal – Washington moves to Phase 3
— Created March 17, 2021 by Kathy Reed
By Kathy Reed
The state of Washington takes another step on the roadmap to recovery next week – as of Monday, the entire state will move into Phase 3 of the Healthy Washington: Roadmap to Recovery plan, Gov. Jay Inslee announced last week. In addition, the short-lived “regional approach” will be no more, as the evaluation process will shift back to a county-by-county approach.
“Because of the progress we’ve made by decreasing our case rates and hospitalizations, as well as our tremendous efforts to get more people vaccinated, our reopening plan is once again based on counties, not regions,” Inslee said during a press conference. “We are excited to take this step and we will keep evaluating our progress, and the impacts of these changes, to determine how and when we reopen further.”
As part of the updated plan, counties will now be evaluated every three weeks. Evaluations will take place on Mondays and any changes would begin on Friday. The first evaluation is planned for April 12. Large and small counties will be evaluated differently on two metrics – new case rates and new COVID hospitalizations. If any county fails either of the metrics it will move back one phase. Island County falls into the large county category, as it has more than 50,000 residents.
Further, if the statewide ICU capacity reaches more than 90 percent, all counties in the state will move back one phase. All movement backward or forward in phases is at the discretion of the State Department of Health.
While details of Phase 3 are expected to be released sometime this week, it will allow in-person spectators at professional and high school sporting events for the first time in a year, according to Inslee. For sporting venues with permanent seating, 25 percent capacity will be allowed. Up to 400 people will be allowed for both outdoor and indoor activities, as long as that number does not exceed 50 percent of capacity for the location. This also applies to restaurants, gyms, fitness centers and movie theaters. Masks and social distancing will still be required.
“Some of the hardest hit businesses in Washington will be able to return to 50 percent capacity as we continue on the road to recovery,” Inslee said. “On March 22, we make one more step to beating this virus and rejuvenating our economy.”
Local leaders are pleased to see the state’s progress in reopening the economy.
“I am pleased to move to Phase 3, assuming the public will continue to follow the three W’s – wear a mask, wash hands and watch your distance,” said Island County Commissioner Janet St. Clair. “We just need to be safe as we are cautiously optimistic about our progress.”
“We don’t know yet exactly what Phase 3 means — we’re still waiting for clarification,” said Melanie Bacon, Island County Commissioner. “We do know restaurants can open up to 50 percent, so I’m certainly happy for those businesses and customers.”
Commissioners also applauded the move back to a county-by-county method of evaluation rather than the regional plan.
“I would like to think it was Island County’s persistence, but most local governments were pushing to get out of the regional model,” said Commissioner Jill Johnson. “The fact that counties of all size were expressing concerns about regionalization I think underlines the point that it was simply the wrong way to go about reopening decision-making.”
Gov. Inslee also announced last week that the state will progress to the next tier of eligibility for the vaccine, about a week earlier than originally planned. Those in Phase 1B-Tier 2 are now able to get their vaccine.
The supply of vaccine to Island County has also stabilized somewhat, making it easier to distribute. The county is actually running slightly ahead of the state in terms of vaccine distribution, according to St. Clair.
“Island County has done very well in vaccine distribution given our advance planning and early start,” she said. “This despite the challenges in supply at the early weeks of vaccinations. If you review the State data on vaccinations – Washington state has 18 percent initiating (first dose) vaccinations completed, Island County has 19 percent. Vaccination completions is close, with the state at 10.26 percent and Island County at 10.40 percent.”
“Based on what we’ve seen, specifically in regard to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine (due to our storage capabilities with our specialized freezers), we are beginning to see some regularity developing with the vaccine supply chain,” said WhidbeyHealth Marketing and Community Relations Manager Conor O’Brien. “Due to how we report our vaccine data to the State Department of Health, we haven’t had any problems in the last month receiving allocation requests for booster (second) doses. Regarding our prime (first) dose allocations, those in particular are starting to normalize. We’ve received allocations for prime doses two out of the last three weeks.”
O’Brien said they have had such success manning WhidbeyHealth’s vaccination clinics, they are not adding additional volunteer staff at this time and said vaccinations continue to go well.
“We also just had a milestone in our vaccination efforts this week, where we administered our 10,000th vaccine dose to the Dean of Students at Oak Harbor Intermediate School,” he said.
To determine eligibility for the COVID vaccine, visit FindYourPhaseWa.org.