WA COVID-19 rules have changed. What you need to know.

Gov. Jay Inslee has moved some areas of the state into Phase 2 of the new reopening plans. We answer your questions here.

A visitor to a mask art show at the Museum of Museums displays two masks, one by Drew Zandonella-Stannard, who embroidered masks freehand with Insta-worthy quotes. (Margo Vansynghel/Crosscut) 

Gov. Jay Inslee has moved some parts of Washington state toward a gradual reopening as COVID-19 cases begin to decline.

We offer this primer to answer your questions and help you live the most normal life possible right now, including lots of links for more information about your particular circumstances and to help you track changes in the restrictions.

Let us know if you still have questions and we’ll do our best to update this story with more answers.

What phase are we in?

Updated Feb. 12 at 1 p.m.

Washington's new reopening plan, called the "Roadmap to Recovery," divides the state into multicounty regions. At the beginning of February, two regions in Western Washington moved into Phase 2 of the new reopening plan. All the other regions were added to Phase 2 in mid-February.

Phase 2 allows for some indoor dining, small social gatherings at home with up to five people from outside your household, small indoor receptions for weddings and funerals, small indoor group fitness activities and a reopening of museums and indoor entertainment venues at 25% capacity.

How can a region advance to the next phase?

Added Feb. 2 at noon

Although this guidance has already changed once since the new reopening plan began in January, here's the basic information about how a region can move from one phase to the next.

The Washington State Department of Health is looking at several metrics to judge whether coronavirus cases are increasing or decreasing. The four metrics they're tracking are trends in coronavirus cases, testing positivity rates, hospital admission rates and ICU occupancy. Regions that show improvement in three of the four metrics can move ahead to the next phase.

Is the mask order a rule or a suggestion?

Since the end of June, Washington has had a statewide mask mandate. Every Washingtonian is required to wear a face covering that covers their mouth and nose while in a public space, both indoors and outdoors. The indoor rule applies to most situations when you’re not at home. The outdoor rule applies when proper social distancing can’t be maintained. You may remove your mask while eating or drinking as long as you are 6 feet away from others who are not part of your household. When walking around the neighborhood, running or doing other exercises outdoors, masks are not required, as long as you stay at least 6 feet away from others.

Masks are required every time you go into a store and the people who work there are supposed to refuse to serve customers if they disobey this order. Business owners can get in trouble if they do not follow these rules. People who don’t want to wear a mask in public places have another option in Washington state: They can stay home.

Will I still need to wear a mask after being vaccinated?

Added Feb. 2 at noon

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people keep wearing masks and physically distancing from people outside their household even after they have received both doses of the coronavirus vaccines.

Health experts say they still do not know for sure how someone who has had a vaccine can continue to spread the virus. Since wearing a mask protects others more than it protects the mask wearer, this recommendation will likely continue for many months. As more people are vaccinated, scientists hope to improve their understanding of how these new vaccines might stop COVID-19 transmission.

The CDC continues to recommend the following guidance for protecting yourself and others from the virus.

How can I get a vaccine?

Added Feb. 2 at noon

As anyone trying to get a COVID-19 vaccine because they are in the correct vaccine phase can tell you, the process is complicated and challenging, in part because the distribution and supply of vaccine doses are so limited.

We're creating a whole list of questions and answers about the coronavirus vaccines to help you sign up when it's your turn.

What are the rules for businesses?

Added Oct. 28, 2020, at noon

The governor's office has posted a lot of information online about which businesses are considered essential and what the business rules are during each phase.

If you're worried about workplace safety during the coronavirus pandemic, the state Department of Health offers guidance.

The state Department of Labor & Industries answers questions on its website about business safety and workplace rules.

Where do I complain about businesses not following the rules?

Added Oct. 28 at noon

You can file business complaints through the Governor's Office. This site also offers links to information about what is an essential business and what are the state's reopening rules. Local law enforcement officials ask the public to please refrain from calling 911 when they see someone not wearing a mask in a local business. And for the readers asking how to report a religious organization not following the rules, nonprofit business complaints should be sent the same link as all other business complaints.

What about weddings and funerals?

Updated Feb. 2 at noon

Weddings and funerals, and related receptions, are allowed indoors or outdoors, with occupancy limited to  25% building capacity.

What are the rules for religious organizations?

Updated  Feb. 2 at noon

Religious organizations are allowed to hold services, but with some capacity and safety limitations.

Indoor religious services at 25% capacity or up to 200 people, whichever is less, are now allowed, but there needs to be 6 feet of social distancing between households in all directions. Cloth face coverings are required for all participants. Religious organizations are also allowed to hold outdoor services for up to 200 individuals, with households physically distanced in all directions.

Religious weddings and funerals follow the rules detailed in the previous question.

When can public schools reopen?

Updated Feb. 2 at noon

Gov. Inslee recently encouraged school districts to work toward bringing elementary school students back to class this winter or spring as long as COVID-19 rates continue to decline. More than 100 districts across the state have already started educating the state’s youth in person, according to school reopening data from the state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. Those districts have more than 50% of their students learning through some kind of hybrid online and in-person method. 

School reopening decisions are mostly local choices within the wider state health guidelines around the coronavirus.

When does the statewide eviction moratorium end?

Updated Feb. 2 at noon

The eviction moratorium has been extended through March 31. But that doesn’t mean a landlord can’t kick out a bad tenant, and it doesn’t stop landlords from selling their property and effectively evicting renters in that way. The governor’s guidance requires a 60-day notice if an owner intends to occupy a rental or sell it.

The eviction moratorium was designed to stop landlords from evicting tenants who can’t pay their rent because of a direct or indirect impact of the COVID-19 virus. The Governor’s Office says it is working on an amendment to the moratorium to make it clearer that other reasons for not paying rent do not apply to this protection.

If you think your eviction violates these rules, you can complain to state government.

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