The expansion moves Washington through the phased reopening on a county-by-county basis. With this new approach, counties will have more flexibility to demonstrate they can safely allow additional economic activity based on targeted metrics.
“We are able to do this thanks to millions of Washingtonians pulling together, in the face of sacrifice and suffering, and doing their part by staying home,” Inslee said during a press conference Friday. “But this does not mean that we are returning to normal. It means that after three months, we are successfully moving forward.”
Starting on June 1, any county can apply to John Wiesman, secretary of Washington State Department of Health, to move to the next phase from the phase that they are currently in. The application process will include target metrics set by the secretary and must be submitted by the county executive for review.
As of Thursday, 26 counties have been approved to move to Phase 2. Counties in Phase 2 must be in that phase for a minimum of three weeks before becoming eligible for Phase 3 variance. The earliest any county could move to Phase 3 would be June 3.
In this new approach, counties will now have more flexibility and the ability to apply to the secretary of health to demonstrate they can safely allow additional economic activity based on metrics and a holistic review of their COVID-19 activity and ability to respond.
These metrics are being taken in whole, and the goals here are targets, not necessarily requirements. Each will be evaluated in total.
The secretary may approve a county moving in whole to the next phase, or may only approve certain activities in the next phase. This new option, for counties in Phase 1 who do not meet Phase 2 criteria, would allow variance to enter a “modified” Phase 1. This would allow some Phase 2 activities to begin in those jurisdictions.
The same option is available for counties in Phase 2 that may not be fully ready for Phase 3, allowing for increased economic activity but sustained health and safety protections.
Conversely, counties may identify when they need to return to an earlier phase, and the secretary has the authority to return a county to an earlier phase if the county chooses not to do so on its own and the secretary has identified a need to do so.
The order is set to expire at midnight on July 1, 2020. Read the full plan here.
Inslee also announced new safety and health requirements for businesses operating in Washington’s “Safe Start” plan.
The announcement brings together general requirements for all business operations, including essential businesses operating outside of industry-specific guidance, and includes new requirements for facial coverings.
Beginning June 8, all employees will be required to wear a cloth facial covering, except when working alone in an office, vehicle or at a job site, or when the job has no in-person interaction. Employers must provide cloth facial coverings to employees, unless their exposure dictates a higher level of protection under the Department of Labor and Industries’ safety and health rules and guidance. Refer to Coronavirus Facial Covering and Mask Requirements for additional details. Employees may choose to wear their own facial coverings at work, provided it meets the minimum requirements.
Employers must also post signage at their place of business strongly encouraging customers to wear cloth facial coverings. Businesses are encouraged to require customers to wear cloth facial coverings, in order to protect employees from exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace.
Inslee stressed the importance of wearing cloth facial coverings in public as business activity increases in the state.
“Wearing a mask is strongly encouraged in most circumstances to protect the health of our communities,” Inslee said. “As we start to increases in travel, recreation, and economic activity, it is critical that we remain diligent in order to avoid a sharp increase in exposure. We will continue to closely monitor disease data to determine whether additional steps are needed to protect public health.”