Restaurant reprieve: State to relax some indoor restrictions


Restaurants can resume indoor dining on Feb. 1 under revised rules for reopening certain businesses announced by Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday.

Bowling alleys, movie theaters and card rooms will also be allowed to welcome customers back inside.

Inslee laid out a series of changes to “Healthy Washington,” his recovery plan unveiled Jan. 5 that aims to gradually restart parts of the economy and public life in stages, regionally, where the rate of coronavirus infections and hospitalizations are trending downward.

“We think this is a really good day in the state of Washington moving forward,” Inslee said.

Under the new rules, the Puget Sound region, which includes King County, Pierce and Snohomish counties, can advance on Monday, Feb. 1, to Phase 2 of Healthy Washington.

In Phase 2, restaurants can reopen at a maximum 25% capacity and a limit of six people per table. Also, indoor movie theaters, bowling alleys, card rooms, aquariums and museums can reopen with up to 25% occupancy. Under the current Phase 1, restaurants are limited to takeout service and outdoor dining.

To advance to a higher phase, Healthy Washington previously required a region to collectively show, over two weeks, 10% decreases in both case rates and hospitalizations, as well as ICU occupancy of less than 90% and a test positivity rate under 10%.

Regions will now only have to meet three of those four measures to move to a higher phase, allowing a greater degree of reopening, Inslee said at a news conference.

The West region, which includes Grays Harbor, Pacific, Thurston and Lewis counties, will also qualify for Phase 2 on Monday.

Going forward, the state will evaluate each region’s metrics every two weeks, instead of the current weekly review.

If a region advances but later fails to meet any two of the four benchmarks, it would regress to the earlier phase.

“The numbers make these decisions, we don’t,” Inslee said.

There is no information on what a future Phase 3 may require or include.

Inslee’s new approach eases restrictions imposed in November, when case counts shattered previous highs, locally and statewide.

King County’s step to Phase 2 comes as data show the area might be through the worst of the pandemic’s third wave. November and December saw the highest rates of positive cases in King County, and hospitalizations from the virus remained high earlier this month.

But in the 14-day period ending Jan. 27, King County reported 238 new COVID infections per 100,000 residents, the lowest rate since November. In early December, that figure had climbed to as high as at 445 per 100,000.

Hospitalizations and deaths from the virus have also slowed.

“What we have done in Washington state has worked, and is working,” Inslee said. “The kind of decisions we have made, difficult as they are, have saved thousands of lives.”

Jerry Cornfield

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Jerry Cornfield
Tags: Coronavirus

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