On May 4th Washington State’s Governor Jay Inslee first announced his “Safe Start” plan for reopening Washington state. An updated plan further outlining specific guidelines was later released on May 29th.
The plan consists of four phases that counties move through on a case-by-case basis. Due to being an epicenter of the pandemic, King County and most nearby counties are currently still in phase one. In this phase, gatherings are not permitted and strict social distancing is the norm. On May 5th, certain outdoor recreational activities such as golf and use of state parks became permitted, however, the majority of typical recreational activities remain closed.
If a county wishes to move to the next phase it’s commission/council must submit applications to be verified by the Washington State Department of Health. The counties are then evaluated on the # of cases in the county, testing rate per capita, healthcare system readiness, plans for providing individual isolation, and plans to address outbreaks in areas of congregation. If the county meets the requirements it may then move to the next phase of the plan. Once a county moves into a new phase they may not move into another phase until three weeks have passed.
In phase two domestic and professional services as well as retail and restaurants begin to open in a limited capacity. Here small gatherings are allowed: people are permitted to gather with no more than five people from outside their household a week. Currently, many counties in the westernmost and easternmost parts of Washington are in this phase.
In the coming weeks counties may begin to move to phase three, meaning that non-essential travel, the majority of recreational activities, and many business activities could be permitted to open. Next, counties reach the final phase. In phase 4, gatherings with over 50 people are allowed and large events such as concerts will be resumed. At this point, according to the Safe Start plan, it is safe for those who are at risk to “resume public interaction, with physical distancing” and life will restart like normal for the majority of people.
All this being said, according to a statement by the state the, “ approach may be adjusted as the pandemic evolves”. Due to the nature of our situation and how little we can predict, much of the plan may still be subject to change. Furthermore, if the situation worsens after reopening, the Department of Health may rescind its approval and move the county back to the previous phase.
Despite this danger, the potential that life may soon return to a semblance of what it was before the pandemic brings hope. As other counties move forward, perhaps ours will soon do the same.