If you’re like me, the extended crest of this latest coronavirus wave may have stopped you from paying much mind to Phase 2 of the “Healthy Washington—Roadmap to Recovery." Governor Jay Inslee’s plan arrived in early January, as cases continued to climb post-New Year’s Eve. It felt inevitable we’d be in Phase 1 for a while, with all the semi-lockdown state realities that entailed: no indoor dining, extremely limited gym access, and maximal cabin fever.

But on Thursday Inslee announced that our Puget Sound region (King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties) could move to Phase 2 of that recovery plan on Monday, less than a month since it was released.

Phase 2 is not a full-on reopening by any stretch, but it will resemble a warmer season of the pandemic. Indoor dining can return at 25 percent capacity. So can gyms, movie theaters, concert halls, museums, and other indoor event spaces (with a limit of 200 people, if that's less than 25 percent). "Low and moderate risk" sports competitions are allowed. And weddings will have fewer restrictions, though dancing is still "prohibited." (Sure.)

As of Thursday morning, it seemed unlikely we would break through to the next phase. Unlike with past restriction rollouts, the governor’s most recent recovery program provided specific criteria for graduating to different phases of economic recovery. Reaching Phase 2 required:

  • A 10 percent or greater drop in the 14-day rate of new Covid-19 cases (per 100,000 people).
  • A 10 percent or greater drop in the 14-day rate of new hospital admissions (per 100,000 people).
  • An average seven-day occupancy of ICU staffed beds of less than 90 percent.
  • A seven-day Covid-19 positivity rate of less than 10 percent.

Last week, every region bombed that test—the state said that no one could move to Phase 2 before February 1. But the governor loosened Washington's standards on Thursday, allowing regions that met three of the four to proceed (the "West," with Grays Harbor, Lewis, Pacific, and Thurston counties, will join us in Phase 2).

In Puget Sound, the most recent update to the state’s recovery dashboard showed our ICU occupancy at 84 percent. Hospital admissions had dipped 16 percent, and our positivity rate was just below the 10 percent bar. All OK. Our coronavirus case rate would have held us back under the previous all-or-nothing assessment, but it's still trending in the right direction.

The governor said science and "reason" guided his decision to loosen up restrictions. He cited increasing daily vaccinations as one reason why more activity might not precede yet another shutdown.

Still, the spread of the B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant could mushroom first. The virus that originated in the UK poses the greatest hurdle to optimism at the moment. The mutation is more transmissible than what Inslee called our "old-fashioned" coronavirus. And though our vaccines should remain effective against the UK strain, other mutations might render shots futile.

Mayor Jenny Durkan is worried about the variants, but she will not impose any restrictions on Seattle beyond what's in the state's plan. "The Mayor is concerned that [the] unpredictability of these new variants could lead to the Puget Sound region going backwards in the upcoming weeks if residents and businesses do not continue to take public health precautions seriously," spokesperson Anthony Derrick wrote in an email.

In other words: Keep social distancing. Keep wearing a mask—two if you can. And try to stay patient. Sometimes it's rewarded. Just ask Snohomish County, which weighed seceding from our Puget Sound group to expedite its reopening. Bet the county's happy it stuck with us now.

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