(The Center Square) – Washington counties will remain in their respective phase of reopening for two more weeks, Gov. Jay Inslee announced on Tuesday.
Inslee announced the move in response to what state officials have dubbed the "Fourth Wave" of COVID-19 cases in the state. The phenomenon has resulted in weekly case rates climbing to about 2,000 a week or twice the weekly average in March.
"We are at the intersection of progress and failure, and we cannot veer from the path of progress," Inslee said. "Our economy is beginning to show early signs of growth thanks to some of our great legislative victories and we know vaccines are the ticket to further reopening—if we adhere to public health until enough people are vaccinated."
County applications for Phase 3 will be eligible for review in the next two weeks.
For the past several months, Washington businesses have operated under a four-phase plan tied to countywide COVID case counts and hospitalizations.
Smaller counties must meet one of two metrics to reach Phase 3. They must either see fewer than 100 new COVID cases over two weeks or see three COVID hospitalizations or fewer over one week.
Larger counties must see either 200 or fewer new cases per 100,000 people over two weeks or five new COVID hospitalizations for one full week. Counties with 50,000 people or more count as large under Inslee's "Healthy Washington Roadmap."
In Phase 3, indoor dining capacity is set at 50% compared to 25% in Phase 2. Depending on the size of the establishment, maximum capacity is locked in at 300 people.
The news comes more than two weeks after Inslee moved three Washington counties back to the state's more restrictive Phase 2 effective April 16. All other counties, including Seattle's King County, remain in Phase 3 for the next 14 days.
Inslee's decision to pump the brakes on Washington's reopening marks a quick departure from doubling the state's indoor dining capacity from 25% to 50% in late March under Phase 3.
The governor has continued to promote outdoor activities amid warmer weather in Washington. On Monday, Inslee directed sports stadiums to designate seating sections for vaccinated spectators who can produce vaccine cards. Up to 9,000 people are allowed outdoors in Phase 3.
COVID-19 vaccinations are now open to everyone 16 and older in Washington and nationwide. Inslee urged people in the state to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
"We have a choice in these next couple weeks to get vaccinated and take more control over the course of this pandemic," Inslee said. "I am confident and believe that if more people continue to get vaccinated and mask up, we can get our numbers down."
On Tuesday, the CDC's COVID Tracker showed about 47% of people in the state had received their first dose while another 33% are now fully vaccinated.
The Washington Department of Health reports the state has seen a total of 378,225 confirmed cases to date. Another 5,528 people have died from the disease to date.