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Criticism of Washington’s Phase 2 includes unpredictability, inaccurate metrics

Travel lane and parking space revised for covered dining in downtown Seattle. (SDOT/Flickr)

The biggest counties in the state are among those that can reopen nearly all businesses Monday as the Puget Sound and West regions move to Phase 2.

Two regions to move to Phase 2; Inslee announces change to reopening criteria

Gov. Inslee announced that King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties (Puget Sound region), as well as Thurston, Pacific, Lewis, and Grays Harbor counties (West region) qualify to move to Phase 2 after meeting three of the four public health metrics.

But, that status can be taken away if case or hospitalization rates start to climb again.

“If we relax too much, we could be back into the horrific days of exponential growth,” Gov. Inslee said.

In Phase 2, almost all businesses, including restaurants and entertainment venues, are allowed to reopen indoor operations at 25% capacity.

While that’s good news for many businesses, Washington Hospitality Association CEO Anthony Anton says the governor’s latest plan means some businesses might reopen, then have to shut down suddenly if COVID-19 rates change.

“We would love to continue to work with the governor for a more stable metric,” Anton said.

The Washington State Department of Health is now going to evaluate each regions’ metrics every two weeks rather than weekly, which will determine how many customers are allowed indoors, or if they’ll need to shut down entirely.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan expressed similar concerns about unpredictability, especially with the more contagious COVID-19 strains having been detected in King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties.

“I think it’s really important for there to be consistency not just in King County, but in each of the counties in the region,” Durkan said.

For that reason, the mayor says she won’t prevent Seattle from moving to Phase 2 and beginning to reopen.

Renee Sunde, head of the Washington Retail Association, believes stores could allow 50% capacity indoors without compromising safety. She says Gov. Inslee is moving too slowly on the issue and has not even announced a phase where retail could return to 50% capacity.

“We moved everyone to 30%, then back to 25%, and there is absolutely no pathway forward for the retail industry to move to 50%,” she said.

Sunde says 50% is the rule for many of her peers across the United States, and adds that they know it’s working safely for them to be open at 50%.

In a few of the counties that remain in Phase 1, some public leaders and health officials are saying the metrics used to progress forward aren’t accurate. KIRO Radio’s Hanna Scott reports that in a rare break from Gov. Inslee, Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim), Rep. Steve Tharinger (D-Port Townsend), and Rep. Mike Chapman (D-Port Angeles) released a joint statement in response to the business reopening metrics saying that these counties are at a “standstill for no good reason.”

“Gov. Inslee’s recent change to the Roadmap to Recovery has left Clallam and Jefferson counties at a standstill for no good reason,” the joint statement reads. “This new plan relies on inconsistent metrics and an overly broad, regional approach for decision-making that does not reward the citizens and businesses in Clallam and Jefferson who have faithfully complied with the governor’s orders.”

The regional approach, they say, takes away local input and ignores local health officers’ science-based knowledge. Plus, when grouped with other counties in a regional approach, the public officials say the success of Clallam and Jefferson counties in lowering transmission and case rates “is ignored.”

“This is not a position we take lightly,” the statement continues. “But it is clear that the governor’s plan exhibits a disastrous disconnect with the realities of our communities and, as their elected representatives, we must demand a reopening plan that is fair and sound. The current plan is neither.”

As it stands, Washington regions (of which there are eight) have to meet three of the four public health metrics to move to Phase 2. There are only two phases outlined in the Roadmap to Recovery at this time. The original roadmap required regions to meet all four metrics to move forward.

The four metrics remain the same: Regions have to show a 10% decreasing trend in case rates; a 10% decrease in COVID hospital admission rates; an ICU occupancy rate that’s less than 90%; and a test positivity rate of less than 10%.

To remain in Phase 2, the region must maintain three metrics. If any region fails to meet any two metrics, they will regress to Phase 1.

The KIRO Radio Newsdesk contributed to this report.

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