What phase are we in? King County staying in Phase 3 — for now

Gov. Inslee isn't rolling King County or any other county back to Phase 2 of reopening, but he says he will reconsider that move in two weeks.

Iman Hassan of Seattle receives her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at Lumen Field Event Center's COVID-19 vaccination site on March 13, 2021. (Matt M. McKnight/Crosscut)

Washingtonians who heard that the governor may roll back reopening in some counties if COVID-19 pandemic rates don’t slow down may be wondering what the return to Phase 2 or even Phase 1 means for them.

The difference between phases is mostly a matter of degree. In Phase 3, for example, restaurants may welcome people to dine inside at 50% of the establishment’s regular capacity. In Phase 2, that drops back to 25%; indoor dining is prohibited in Phase 1. The same metric applies to spectators at outdoor sports like baseball and soccer, at salons, in retail stores and at worship services.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday that he would not move any counties back a phase right now, even though epidemiologists have observed a fourth surge spreading in the state. He said he would reassess that decision in two weeks, because the most recent data from the state Department of Health shows cases are plateauing.

The governor noted that the increase in cases has not been coupled with an increase in deaths. Hospitalizations are up, but those hospital stays have been shorter. He credited the increase in vaccinations and the focus on vaccinating the most vulnerable first for saving lives.

Counties are reevaluated for COVID transmission every three weeks to determine which reopening phase they belong in. For large counties like King, Pierce or Snohomish to be in Phase 3, they would need to keep a 14-day average of new COVID cases below 200 per 100,000 residents and a seven-day average of new hospitalizations below 5 per 100,000.

King County’s current COVID status, for example, shows an average of 242.3 new cases per 100,000, and new hospitalizations of 6.5 per 100,000. The numbers in Pierce County are 374.2 new cases per 100,000 and a seven-day average of new hospitalizations of 6.8 per 100,000. Pierce was already one of the few counties sent back to Phase 2. The threshold for Phase 1 is 350 cases and 10 new hospitalizations for large counties. This chart allows people to look up the data in every Washington county.

On March 22, Inslee moved every county up to Phase 3 and welcomed fans back to Mariners games. Since then, vaccination rates have continued to go up across the state but so have COVID transmission rates.

Dr. Jeffrey Duchin, health officer of Public Health — Seattle and King County, the recent increase in cases has appeared to level off.

“It’s not possible to predict with certainty where we’re headed next," Duchin said. Based on what has happened elsewhere, Washington may be turning the corner on the fourth wave, he added.

The Washington State Department of Health reports more than 3.3 million doses of the vaccine have been given since the vaccine rollout began in December and about 2.3 million Washingtonians have had at least one dose. In King County, 42% of people 16 and over have been fully vaccinated and 64% have received at least one shot.

People can find available vaccine appointments at the state Department of Health’s vaccine locator website. They also can call the state’s multilingual telephone hotline number at 800-525-0127. Another resource is the Washington COVID Vaccine Finder, which calls itself a community-driven effort to help Washingtonians find vaccine appointments. Public Health — Seattle and King County is also implementing a new program to vaccinate individuals who cannot leave their homes.

The governor said adherence to public health restrictions is the best way to control the virus. He noted that state agencies have handed out $7.3 million in fines to people and organizations that are breaking the rules. 

Vaccines are the main key to stopping the pandemic, Inslee emphasized.

“The main reason we need these restrictions at all is because not enough people are vaccinated," he said, adding that 38% of the state is fully vaccinated. "There is no playbook for the end game of this pandemic."


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