Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee announced changes to how the state will handle business regulations and reopening related to the pandemic on Jan. 6.
The new "Healthy Washington - Roadmap to Recovery" plan arranges the state into eight regions, provides benchmarks for each region to meet to move to the next phase and provides new phases for reopening.
Snohomish County is in the Puget Sound region with King and Pierce counties.
State officials say the goal of business restrictions continues to be to reduce the spread of COVID-19 so that hospitals do not run out of capacity to care for individuals.
Regions were scheduled to be placed in Phase 1, which is the most restrictive, or Phase 2 officially on Jan. 11.
To move from Phase 1 to Phase 2 a region has to show a decreasing trend for their two-week COVID-19 case rate and for their COVID-19 hospital admission rate.
Hospitals in the region must show less than 90 percent ICU occupancy.
Finally, the COVID-19 test positivity rate must be below 10 percent.
The Snohomish Health District’s Dec. 30 report showed a positive test rate of 8.6 percent. During the times of the highest case rates for the county in November and early December, the positive test rate ranged from 9 percent to 11 percent.
In the summer when the county had a far lower case rate, the positive test rate was recorded at 2.5 percent to about 6 percent in most weeks.
To remain in Phase 2, a region’s case rate and hospitalization trends must continue to decrease or remain flat, ICU occupancy cannot go above 90 percent and the positive test rate must stay below 10 percent.
In Phase 1 indoor personal gatherings are prohibited and outdoor gatherings are to be kept to a maximum of 10 people.
Most indoor business is to limited to 25 percent capacity, including personal services, professional services, retail and worship services.
Restaurants cannot have indoor dining.
Curb-side pickup and remote work and encouraged whenever possible.
Weddings and funerals are limited to 30 people.
Gyms can open for some low-risk sports and activities, but are limited on capacity and time.
In Phase 2 many of the same restrictions remain. Indoor personal gatherings are allowed but with a max of five people outside the household.
For outdoor gatherings up to 15 people can gather.
Restaurants are allowed indoor dining with some restrictions and the rules for gyms also begin to relax a little, but there are still many restrictions.
Additional phases may be added later if the state’s COVID-19 situation improves and the state Department of Health retains the right to move a region to a phase even outside these guidelines.
Many local business owners said they hoped to be able to open sooner.
“I think business owners are tired of the struggle and just trying to keep our doors open,” said Cristy Brubaker, owner of Sassafras Antiques and Salvage.
“It would be nice to not have these worries anymore,” she said.
The grouping of Snohomish County with King and Pierce counties also concerned many locals.
“We could have areas that are shut down whose numbers are improving,” said Josh Matthews, a broker at Realtor Gurus in Arlington.
“It seems like generalizing like that could be less effective,” he said.
Local officials also disagreed with the decision to put the county with King County, believing it will slow the opening locally.
“Snohomish County should not be lumped in with King County on our path to reopening as these are two substantially different counties and this linkage will undoubtedly result in longer closures for our small businesses,” said Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring.
Arlington Mayor Barbara Tolbert and officials around the county plan to make a joint statement in the week of Jan. 11 to express disagreement about Snohomish County and King County being put together.
“I am very concerned for the economic health of Arlington small businesses and those who have lost their jobs. I am partnering with Snohomish County mayors, to request the Governor that when our case rate and other key indicators drop that we are able to safely reopen our economy,” said Tolbert.
Owner of the Stilly Diner, Cheri Graves, said Inslee’s new plan did address one criticism of the previous plan in offering clear data benchmarks for regions to hit.
“Compared to the old plan at least there are some specific goals,” she said.
Graves believes restaurants should be allowed to open up faster. She acknowledges that COVID-19 could spread at restaurants but said it doesn’t represent a significant increase in spread over what is currently happening.
“I don’t think it’s any greater risk than what people are already doing though. If they’re not meeting here, they’re just meeting at one of their homes,” she said.
Nehring agreed that he hasn’t seen significant evidence that small businesses contribute to the spread of COVID-19.
“I have yet to see data that shows that our small businesses are the cause of the recent spike in cases, yet those who own and work at small businesses are bearing the brunt of the economic burden of this current shutdown,” Nehring said.
The full “Roadmap to Recovery” plan is available at medium.com/wagovernor.