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What’s allowed as counties reopen under Gov. Inslee’s ‘Safe Start’ phases

Map updated June 19. (Washington State Department of Health)

Gov. Inslee on May 29, announced the stay-at-home order would expire on May 31, but his Safe Start plan would begin on its heels. The plan allows for a county-by-county approach to reopening.

There are now five counties in a modified version of Phase 1, 17 in Phase 2, and 17 in Phase 3, according to the state. The state Department of Health says each phase will last for a minimum of 3 weeks.

Phase 1 modified:


Chelan (details) (DOH approval letter)

Douglas (details) (DOH approval letter)



Phase 2:

Adams (Approved on May 22)
Clallam (Approved on May 28)
Clark (pending Phase 3 application – under review)
Cowlitz (pending Phase 3 application – under review)
Grant (Approved on May 23)
Jefferson (pending Phase 3 application – under review)
King (Approved on June 19)
Kitsap (pending Phase 3 application – under review)
Klickitat (pending Phase 3 application – under review)
Okanogan (Approved on June 5)
Pierce (Approved on June 5)
San Juan (Pending Phase 3 application – under review)
Skagit (Approved on June 5)
Snohomish (Approved on June 5)
Spokane (Approved on May 22)
Walla Walla (pending modified Phase 3 application – under review)
Whatcom (Approved on June 5)

Phase 3: 

Asotin (Approved on June 5)
Columbia (Approved on June 5)
Ferry (Approved on June 5)
Garfield (Approved on June 5)
Grays Harbor (Approved on June 19)
Island (Approved on June 19)
Kittitas (Approved on June 23)
Lewis (Approved on June 19)
Lincoln (Approved on June 5)
Mason (Approved on June 19)
Pacific (Approved on June 16)
Pend Oreille (Approved on June 5)
Skamania (Approved on June 11)
Stevens (Approved on June 5)
Thurston (Approved on June 24)
Wahkiakum (Approved on June 5)
Whitman (Approved on June 5)

Confirmed coronavirus cases across Washington state

On May 29, Inslee also announced new criteria that counties must meet to move from phase to phase. Incidence of new cases reported during prior two weeks have to be fewer than 25 cases per 100,000 people. The average number of tests performed per day during the past week (or average % tests positive for COVID-19 during the past week) needs to be 50 times the number of cases (or 2%). Read more about the criteria here.

The criteria has morphed at least twice. On Tuesday, May 19, Gov. Inslee announced the criteria that counties can use to apply for variance changed. Counties could apply for a variance if they had fewer than 10 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents over a two-week span. Those standards were consistent with the CDC’s own guidelines. Originally, the guidelines were that counties must have had a population of less than 75,000 and no new cases of the coronavirus in the last three weeks.

A county must also show it has adequate local hospital capacity and enough PPE to outfit health care workers. Read more from the DOH.

The application must include plans for:

  • Making testing available and accessible to everyone in the county with symptoms
  • Staffing case investigations and contact tracing
  • Housing people in isolation or quarantine who can’t or don’t want to do so at home
  • Providing case management services to those in isolation and quarantine
  • Responding rapidly to outbreaks in congregate settings.

The state Secretary of Health, John Wiesman, will review applications and determine whether a county meets the requirements move on to the next phase, potentially with modifications. Variances can be revoked if circumstances change in a county.

Phase 1:

There are four phases to Inslee’s Safe Start process. May 5 marked the start of Phase 1, permitting the following industries to begin reopening: construction activity, outdoor activities, park access, drive-in spiritual service, landscaping, car washes, vehicle sales, pet walking, and retail sales with curbside pickup. Outdoor activities include: golf and day use at state parks and public lands for fishing, hunting and other recreational purposes.

On May 14, the governor reopened: outdoor, staffed tennis; guided tours and instruction for ATV, paddle sports, fishing and horseback; go-cart tracks, ORV/motocross and participant-only motorsports; and other substantially similar outdoor activities.

Phase 2:

Permitted in Phase 2: outdoor recreation, manufacturing, construction, domestic services, retail, real estate, professional services, nail salons, barbers, pet grooming, and restaurants (all with strict safety measures).

Inslee announced a proclamation on May 18 to reopen medical and dental offices.

Each industry that opens has a state-issued set of safety guidelines that must be followed. The state has worked with industry leaders to develop the guidelines. Get the DOH’s guideline’s here.

Inslee announced on May 27 that religious organizations, both in Phase 1 and 2, can meet in person, but they must follow a set of guidelines. Among some typical restrictions that apply to businesses, organizations must not hold choir performances. Also there should not be anything consumed or served from a communal container or plate.

The state has listed what is prohibited here.

Phase 3 would allow gatherings of 50 or fewer people, including sports (without audience participation), non-essential travel, restaurants and taverns at <75% capacity with table size no larger than 10. Bar areas in restaurants and taverns at <25%.

Gyms and movie theaters at 50% capacity, and retail, libraries, museums, and government buildings could open. Pools and recreation centers could open at 50% capacity.

Phase 4 is essentially back to a new normal, allowing gatherings of 50 or more, etc. Nightclubs, concert venues, and large sporting events can reopen. All phases must still follow physical distancing guidelines.

On June 27, Inslee and Wiesman announced they would pause counties from moving on to Phase 4 due to rising cases across the state. Eight counties were eligible to move to Phase 4 before the pause.

“Phase 4 would mean a return to normal activity and we can’t do that now due to the continued rise in cases across the state,” Inslee said. “We all want to get back to doing all the things we love in Washington during the summer, and fully open our economy, but we aren’t there yet. This is an evolving situation and we will continue to make decisions based on the data.”

Gov. Inslee launched a statewide mask or face coverings initiative on June 10.

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