The Status of Washington’s COVID-19 Restrictions: Phased Reopening, Contact Tracing, and Mask Requirements

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Phased Reopening

As part of his proclamation extending the Stay Home – Stay Healthy Order through May 31, Governor Inslee established a phased approach to reopening the state: Safe Start Washington.

Under the plan, the entire state began in Phase I of four planned phases, with each phase expected to last at least three weeks. The Department of Health and Governor Inslee will periodically reevaluate factors related to health care system readiness, testing capacity and availability, case investigations and contact tracing, and the ability to protect high-risk populations in determining whether Washington should move to the next phase, remain in the current phase, or move back to a more restrictive phase.

Under Phase I:

  • High-risk populations are to remain at home;
  • Some outdoor recreation (hunting, fishing, golf, boating, hiking) is allowed;
  • Social gatherings are not permitted with individuals from different households;
  • Spiritual gatherings may operate as drive-in services with one household per vehicle;
  • Travel is limited to only essential and other “Phase I permissible” activities; and
  • A select few businesses are allowed to be open if they are essential businesses, certain existing construction projects, landscaping, auto/RV/boat/off-road vehicle sales, retail (curb-side pickup only), car washes, and pet walkers.

Smaller counties may request a variance to move to Phase II before the rest of the state if they have fewer than 75,000 residents and have not identified a resident with COVID-19 for the three consecutive weeks immediately prior to requesting the variance.  Currently, Asotin, Columbia, Garfield, Lincoln, Ferry, Pend Oreille, Skamania, Stevens, Wahkiakum, and Whitman Counties have been approved to move to Phase II, while the rest of the state remains in Phase I.

For those counties under Phase II, the following activities are permitted:

  • Outdoor recreation and social gatherings with fewer than five people from different households;
  • Travel for Phase II non-essential services; and
  • The reopening of more businesses, including manufacturing, additional construction phases, in-home domestic services such as nannies and housecleaning, in-store retail purchases (with certain restrictions), professional services and office-based businesses, barbers and nail salons, pet grooming, and restaurants (for dine-in) with less than 50% capacity and no table size larger than five patrons.

Phases III and IV of the Safe Start Washington plan will involve greater relaxation of restrictions.

During all phases, employers are required to:

  • Maintain physical distancing of six feet between individuals for both employees and patrons, to the extent possible;
  • Limit close interactions with patrons;
  • Provide adequate sanitation and personal hygiene for workers, vendors, and patrons;
  • Ensure frequent cleaning and disinfection of their businesses, especially high-touch surfaces;
  • Provide necessary personal protective equipment and supplies to employees;
  • Identify strategies for addressing ill employees;
  • Educate employees about COVID-19, including signs, symptoms, and risk factors and how to prevent its spread;
  • Implement other practices appropriate for specific types of businesses on a case-by-case basis; and
  • Accommodate employees who are at high risk should they contract COVID-19 (see our prior blog post about the Governor’s proclamation regarding protection of high-risk employees here).
Contact Tracing

The state has hired approximately 1,300 interviewers to carry out case investigations and contact tracing, which Governor Inslee has stressed will be voluntary and confidential.  An individual who tests positive for COVID-19 will be contacted by an interviewer who will work with that person to determine close contacts (those who have been within 6 feet of the ill person for at least 10 minutes during the time period when that individual was likely to be contagious).  The interviewer will then reach out to those close contacts to notify them of potential exposure and advise them on measures to take to stop the spread of the virus.  All information collected during this process will be maintained in secure systems accessed only by public health agencies and subject to strict confidentiality rules.

While restaurants were originally going to be required to record customers’ contact information for contact tracing purposes once reopening occurs, that requirement has since been retracted. Instead, patrons are encouraged to voluntarily provide that information to restaurants, and businesses must maintain a list of all voluntarily-provided contacts for a minimum of 30 days.  Businesses may choose to use this Voluntary Customer Visitor Log issued by the state.

Mask Requirements

King County has also issued a directive that residents wear cloth face coverings when in indoor public settings and when in outdoor public locations where adequate social distancing cannot be maintained.  Certain individuals are excluded from the directive based on age or disability.  The directive is technically voluntary, as there is no criminal, civil, or financial penalty for failing to wear a mask. All commercial establishments in King County are directed to post signage advising individuals to wear face coverings on the premises.  A sample poster created by the County can be downloaded here.

Whatcom County has issued a similar directive to take effect May 22.

Key Contributors

Karin D. Jones
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