The state will abandon its county-based approach to a phased reopening in favor of a regional approach.
The state will abandon its county-based approach to a phased reopening in favor of a regional approach. WA GOV

As the virus continues aggressively to spread across the country and right here in Seattle, in a press conference on Tuesday Gov. Jay Inslee announced a new phased reopening plan called "Healthy Washington," which will swap the current county-based approach for a regional one. So long, Safe Start!!!!!!

The new plan is more than just a rebrand.

Rather than four phases, the new regional approach will only use two phases for the time being.

All regions currently meet the new criteria for Phase 1, which means some activities will resume statewide starting next Monday (Jan 11). For example, live entertainment "with very tight capacity restrictions—we’re talking ticketed groups of 10" and also "certain fitness programs" should be able to start again, assuming "we see COVID activity reduce, hospitals that aren’t overrun with COVID patients, people continuing to mask, and all the other personal steps we know work to prevent infection," Inslee said.

Nick Streuli, the Governor's director of external affairs, said a Phase 1 "fitness program" would look like "appointment-based fitness and training at gyms where no more than one customer or athlete per 500 square feet is allowed." As for "ticketed events," Streuli gave the example of someone playing a piano in the corner of the lobby of a hotel. The state doesn't permit that sort of show under the current restrictions, but it will under Phase 1 of the Healthy Washington plan.

Regions will move into Phase 2 when they meet certain criteria based on four metrics, including "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%."

Inslee said the process for transitioning to Phase 2 will "essentially be automatic" based on information regularly collected by the Department of Health (DOH). Here are a few activities that can resume in Phase 2: "Restaurants may open indoor dining at 25% capacity, as may indoor fitness centers...sports competitions may resume with limited spectators; and wedding and funeral ceremonies can increase their capacities from current limit."

The state will rollback regions who fail to maintain three of those four metrics for two weeks straight, though they will allow for some flexibility in the trending numbers to create "more stability in the system" when a region moves on and people start sharing more germs, said assistant health secretary Lacy Fehrenbach.

Every Friday the state will review the most recent data they have and then determine which regions can move forward for the following Monday. Regions will move forward or backward like that until we squash this thing for good.

Washington Health secretary Dr. Umair Shah said "we're still in the midst of this pandemic," but his team is "seeing signs" that disease growth has "leveled off in communities across the state." Inslee proudly noted that 45 other states have higher infection rates than Washington does, according to records from the Centers for Disease Control.

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Infection rates across the country, however, are skyrocketing. And as Mudede noted this afternoon, the local infection rates are increasing as well, though we'll see by how much in the coming days. Moreover, comparing ourselves to 45 other states in a country that's mishandling the virus doesn't exactly bring much in the way of relief.

Nevertheless, Inslee said (more than once) that his motto for this year is, "Git 'er done, 2021." For our younger readers, the motto references a phrase popularized by Larry the Cable Guy, a comic hick persona developed by Daniel Lawrence Whitney, who, incidentally, expresses skepticism about states who decided to lockdown to slow the spread of a deadly respiratory virus.

Anyhow, rosier days ahead so long as we continue to mask up, get vaccinated when we're able to, and more or less stay put until then.