On March 7, 2020, the Sounders played a game in front of 33,000 fans at CenturyLink Field shortly after the novel coronavirus had begun to spread throughout the Seattle area. Large gatherings hadn't been banned yet, but the decision to allow screaming spectators during a public health emergency raised more than a stadium's worth of eyebrows. A subsequent Seattle Times and ProPublica report would draw more scrutiny to this political "play on," all but ensuring that, even as other activity restrictions were relaxed, local diehards wouldn't get to see their favorite teams in person again anytime soon.
But on Thursday, just over a year after that controversial match, governor Jay Inslee announced that the next phase of the state's pandemic recovery plan—Phase 3—would include the return of outdoor seating, albeit limited, at sports games. And it'll be here sooner than you might think. "We have a boatload of good news," Inslee gushed at the outset of his Thursday presser.
On March 22, every county in Washington will enter Phase 3, which will bump up the current indoor capacities at restaurants, gyms, and other businesses to 50 percent. Stadiums like T-Mobile Park can reach 25 percent capacity. That means about 9,000 Mariners fans, wearing masks and keeping their distance from one another, can attend Opening Day on April 1.
Inslee said the state will use standards in two metrics—fewer than 200 cases per 100,000 residents every two weeks, and fewer than five hospitalizations per 100,000 residents every week—to assess whether larger counties (the state's ditching the system of fake regions) can remain in Phase 3. It will only make those evaluations every three weeks, though, so Seattle and the rest of the state can revel in Phase 3 life until at least April 12.
Inslee also said, to many vaccine chasers' surprise, that there have been some open appointment slots lately. So, starting on March 17, people in Tier 2 of "Phase 1B" in the state's vaccine rollout will also now be eligible to get their shots. That tier includes grocery store workers, firefighters, and public transit operators (here's the full list). They will be able to visit the new mass vaccination site at Lumen Field, where workers will start jabbing arms this weekend.
After months and months of staying home and side-eyeing large gatherings, it's all a lot to take in. Inslee stressed that coronavirus variants are still spreading across the state, and if the state's ICU occupancy creeps above 90 percent, every county will slide back a phase.
Cases have plateaued in King County and Seattle, so an uptick isn't out of the question. A new variant was just confirmed here. It's still important to wear masks. It's still important to keep your distance.
But it will be nice to start this spring on a much different note than last.