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Snohomish, Pierce, King counties prepare to ease stay-at-home restrictions

Jay Inslee, Dow Constantine, and Jenny Durkan. (King County)

Washington’s three largest counties are in the process of asking the state to begin lifting restrictions on gatherings and businesses.

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Snohomish County was the first of the three to submit a variance to the state health department that would allow the county to move into Phase 2. The 80-page document was sent out Monday night.

County Executive Dave Somers says he expects a decision fairly quickly on the application. If approved, restaurants could reopen for dine-in service at 50% capacity. Barbers, salons, and tattoo parlors could reopen at limited capacity as well, while in-store retail sales could begin again.

Snohomish County was already preparing to ask for a variance on Friday when the state tweaked the rules on infection rates that could allow it to successfully move into Phase 2. On Friday, the state moved the bar on the infection rate from 10 new cases per 100,000 people over two weeks to 25 cases. Snohomish County is well within that new threshold.

Pierce County is in the same position. Its infection rate is about 18 new cases per 100,000 people, similar to Snohomish County. Pierce County Council voted Monday night to apply for a variance from the state — all the application needs is a signature from the county executive.

King County is not quite ready to apply for Phase 2, but it was supposed to approve an application for a move into a modified Phase 1 on Monday. The county website says it has not yet done so, and that when it does, “it will likely take several days to be approved by the state.”

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A modified Phase 1 would include some of the same easing of restrictions found under Phase 2, but with differing capacity requirements. For example, in Phase 2, a restaurant can open at 50% capacity. Under King County’s modified Phase 1, restaurants would only be allowed to have outdoor dining at 50% of capacity, but nothing indoors.

Under those same guidelines, in-store retail would be limited to 15% capacity, while “professional services” would be reopened at 25% capacity, with “indoor services limited to 30 minutes for customers.”

It will be up to the health department to decide on the county applications. It can either accept them, accept them with modifications, or deny them outright. It can also demote counties if they slide backwards.

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