Beginning on Monday, Washington will enact its second pandemic recovery plan in nearly 8 months. “Healthy Washington – Roadmap to Recovery” replaces Governor Inslee’s “Safe Start” plan that he announced last May, four months after the COVID-19 virus was first identified in Washington State.
The new two-phase plan uses a different procedure for relaxing safety protocols but would keep retailers limited to operating at 25% capacity in either phase. All counties start Healthy Washington in Phase 1 with no specific target dates for advancing.
The Department of Health will conduct weekly checks of four metrics to determine which of eight regions across the state can move forward in the plan. The regional approach replaces the county-by-county approach of Safe Start.
To go forward from Phase 1 to Phase 2, regions must meet four metrics:
- A 10% decrease in the two-week rate of COVID-19 cases
- A 10% decrease in the two-week rate of new COVID-19 hospital admissions
- Total hospital intensive care unit occupancy of less than 90% including non-COVID patients
- COVID-19 test positivity rate of less than 10%
The plan does not require individual counties to apply for safety protocol relaxation. Advancement to Phase 2 status will now depend on how well counties in each of the eight regions improve their collective health metrics as determined by the Department of Health.
The newly proposed plan however falls far short of what retailers need to rebound fully, especially those small retailers who have been struggling since the start of the pandemic. Even with improved regional metrics, retailers who move to Phase 2 of the recovery plan would remain limited at 25 percent in-store capacity. “The plan fails to offer a path to full recovery,” says WR President & CEO, Renée Sunde.
Throughout the pandemic, retailers large and small have made huge investments to operate safely including requiring employees and customers to wear masks and practice social distancing. There is no clear path forward for those retail stores unable to hire back full employment and some are still at risk of closing permanently.
Retailers are not the only industry that’s struggling. According to CEO Anthony Anton, Washington Hospitality Association, “Today’s announcement is not a roadmap to recovery. It is a roadmap to a near-complete collapse of main street neighborhood restaurants and hospitality businesses”.
Given current state pandemic metrics, Inslee said he did not soon expect significant business protocol relaxation. However, he said regions could move forward or backward depending upon how their metrics change.
Some minor protocol relaxations were included for entertainment and gyms. Gyms can now conduct training by appointment while admission to zoos and various outdoor event spaces requires timed ticketing for groups of no more than 10 at a time. Bowling alleys may reopen but general admission is prohibited in favor of private rentals of no more than six people.