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Reopening Phase 1 Kennewick
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Last region in Phase 1 looks for ‘glimmer of hope’ as it falls short of benchmarks

Restaurants in the Tri-Cities remain unable to reopen indoor dining. (Jasperdo, Flickr Creative Commons)

On Thursday, Gov. Jay Inslee allowed all but six Washington counties to move into Phase 2 of reopening, leaving the South Central region alone in Phase 1 as it continues to try and drive its COVID-19 case numbers down.

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In the wake of that announcement, Sen. Sharon Brown — who represents Kennewick in the state Senate in Olympia — labeled the decision “heartbreaking” for the Tri-Cities region.

“Moving to Phase 2 would have given our small-business owners and their workers a glimmer of hope in the midst of this pandemic shutdown,” Sen. Brown said in a written release. “Families are suffering. Across the Tri-Cities, and across this state, there are family-owned restaurants that have either shut their doors permanently or may soon have to close.”

Counties in Washington state have been grouped into eight regions based on health system resources over a geographic area. To advance from Phase 1 to Phase 2, regions have to hit three of the following four benchmarks: 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%.

As of Thursday, the South Central region — encompassing Kittitas, Yakima, Benton, Franklin, Walla Walla, and Columbia counties — has hit just two of those four benchmarks, having seen a 41% decrease in case rates and an 86% ICU occupancy rate, but a 9% increase in new COVID-19 hospital admission rates and a 14% test positivity rate.

The South Central area is also the only region in the state that saw an increase in hospital admission rates over the last two weeks, and has the second highest ICU occupancy rate among all eight regions.

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In a statement praising the governor’s decision to move most of the state to Phase 2, Washington Hospitality Association CEO Anthony Anton also expressed his sympathy and support for the six counties that remain in Phase 1.

“They’ve been disproportionately impacted by COVID shutdowns throughout the pandemic, and we know the businesses there are struggling,” Anton said. “The communities have done fantastic work to drop their case counts over the past three weeks. We will work with the Governor to understand why the region isn’t joining the rest of the state in reopening and how we can work toward a positive solution.”

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