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Washington reopens on Wednesday, but what does that mean?

People gather near a popular Starbucks location as Seattle has become the first major city to reach a 70 percent COVID-19 vaccination rate on June 10, 2021 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

On Wednesday, the state officially moves out of Phase 3 of Gov. Inslee’s Healthy WA: Roadmap to Recovery plan to fully reopen.

Timeline: A look back at Washington state’s COVID-19 response

Since May 18, all counties have been living under Phase 3, which has limited indoor spaces, such as bars, restaurants, movie theaters, and the vast majority of public spaces, to operate at 50% capacity. The state also capped private outdoor gatherings to 50 and indoor gatherings to 10.

Remote work has been strongly encouraged, otherwise at 50% capacity for in-person buildings. Restaurants and bars have had to end alcohol service by midnight and tables were restricted to 10 people or fewer. Gyms and other indoor training facilities also have had a capacity restriction of 50%. Most outdoor entertainment events have been restricted to 400 people. Indoor entertainment have been capped at 400 people or 50% capacity, whichever was less.

After June 30, capacity restrictions will not exist, except for at large scale indoor events. An indoor event is defined as “10,000 simultaneous participants located in an indoors enclosed space,” according to the governor’s plan. Those events will be restricted to 75% unless vaccination verification is happening. If verification is occurring before entry and vaccination is required, the capacity restriction is lifted. The state plans to re-evaluate that plan on July 31.

There also will be no physical distancing requirements or negative test requirements. Travel restrictions will follow the Centers for Disease Control guidance.

“What we know now gives us the confidence to close this chapter in this pandemic and begin another,” Inslee said at a May 13 news conference to announce the new mask rules and the June 30th reopening date. “This next part of our fight to save lives in Washington will focus on increasing vaccination rates and continuing to monitor variants of concern as we move toward reopening our state.”

Inslee has stressed that a reopening does not mean an end to the state of emergency on June 30, given that the presence of COVID-19 and the subsequent bid to increase vaccinations have both continued. Additionally, if ICU capacity ever hits 90% statewide while the emergency remains active, the state will roll back activities again in order to save lives.

Currently, hospitalizations reflect the general trend of cases, with Washington state coming down from a smaller fourth wave, following the largest wave of the pandemic over the winter months. The state has seen about 25,000 hospitalizations total due to COVID-19 and has a seven-day rolling average of 29 hospitalizations.

State’s progress to early reopening inches ahead

While Gov. Inslee has tried motivating Washingtonians by making it so that if at least 70% of the population initiates vaccination — meaning they at least get the first of a two-dose regime — the state will reopen prior to June 30. If Washington has not reached that benchmark by Wednesday, it will still reopen regardless.

Currently, the state sits at just over 68% who’ve initiated vaccination. That differs somewhat from the CDC’s rate at 73.1%, but the two government agencies follow different reporting methodologies. Check here to read about the differences.

On May 13, Inslee announced Washington state’s mask mandate would reflect recommendations made by the CDC to allow fully vaccinated people to leave their mask at home. However, businesses can initiate their own standards. Inslee has not updated the state’s guidance on masks.

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