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Benton, Yakima, Franklin counties move to modified Phase 1

Benton, Yakima, and Franklin counties have moved to a modified Phase 1 of Gov. Inslee’s Safe Start reopening plan, even though the state required thresholds to move forward were not yet met in all three counties. The modified phase allows for retail and dining to reopen with limited capacity.

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State Secretary of Health John Wiesman said that residents in these counties have been leaving the area, visiting restaurants, salons, and other businesses that are open in neighboring counties, which further risks the spread of infection.

“So this is a containment strategy to help prevent the virus from spreading into other counties,” Wiesman said. “That’s the reason these counties have been moved to a modified Phase 1.”

Wiesman said the hope is that by reopening businesses within these three counties, residents will be able to stay closer to home.

Governor Inslee recently visited Yakima, Spokane, and the Tri-Cities to speak with local leaders in the area about their coronavirus response and how the state could help. He and Wiesman continue to encourage the use of masks and social distancing measures as the threat of COVID-19 remains.

There is already a statewide mandate requiring masks or cloth face coverings to be worn in all indoor, public spaces and outdoors when social distancing is not possible. Another statewide mandate to take effect Tuesday prohibits businesses from serving customers without masks.

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The governor said the new mandate is a result of increasing cases of COVID-19 across Washington state. The infections per day peaked in April, decreased in April and May, started increasing again in June, and now is back up to the peak.

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.

State health officials reported 651 new cases statewide of coronavirus Sunday, with five new deaths. This follows a concerning trend of rising cases across the state of Washington in recent weeks. More than 35,000 Washingtonians have tested positive so far during the pandemic and more than 1,300 have died.

Wiesman and the state health department is also pausing all movement into the next phase for at least two weeks. This means if your county is in Phase 2 — King, Kitsap, Pierce, Skagit, and Snohomish, for example — it’ll remain in Phase 2 until at least mid-July.

The KIRO Radio Newsdesk contributed to this report.

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