Washington state fully reopens economy: COVID guidelines, mask requirements, what you need to know

Seventeen months after the first U.S. coronavirus case was confirmed in Snohomish County, the state of Washington is fully reopening its economy on June 30.

"Washington has come a long way since the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the country was found in our state January 2020, and that is in no small part due to Washingtonians’ dedication and resilience in protecting themselves and their communities throughout the pandemic," Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement.

Inslee first ordered all schools in the state to shut down on March 13, 2020, followed by bars, restaurants, entertainment venues and recreation centers before extending the order to all nonessential businesses.

The business shutdowns and "stay at home" order initially were supposed to last two weeks, when Washington was reporting roughly 2,200 COVID-19 cases and 110 deaths. Since then, the state has reported more than 414,000 cases and nearly 6,000 deaths. The economy has not been fully open since March of 2020.

"Because folks listened to science and stayed home to stay healthy, wore masks and got vaccinated, we can now safely fully re-open our state’s economy and cultural centers after 15 long months. It hasn’t been easy, but I’m proud of how Washingtonians came together, persevered and sacrificed to fight this virus, and now we’re finally in a place that is safe enough to end this chapter."

The path to 70% vaccination

Inslee said the state could have reopened prior to June 30 if at least 70% of Washingtonians age 16 and up received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

As of June 28, 68.8% of Washingtonians age 16 and up have received at least one vaccine dose, according to the Washington State Department of Health.

Washington state is nearing 70% vaccination. (Washington State Department of Health)

Since May, all of the state’s 39 counties had been in the third phase of a four-stage reopening plan, with indoor capacity limited at 50%. Now, businesses across the state can resume normal operations.

Despite not quite reaching the 70% mark, Inslee said the state fully reopened its economy at 12:01 a.m. on June 30.

Full capacity at restaurants, gyms, movie theaters

Restaurants, gyms, movie theaters and more can resume full capacity indoors. The entire state had been in Phase 3 of the state's reopening plan since May 18, limiting capacity to 50 percent for most indoor activities.

Large indoor events of more than 10,000 people, like concerts, will still be restricted to 75% capacity unless the event does vaccination verification prior to entry and all attendees are vaccinated. Those restrictions will be reevaluated on July 31, Inslee’s office said.

Secretary of Health Umair Shah, MD, MPH thanked Washingtonians for their compliance, but also said the fight against the virus is not over.

"Your tireless efforts have saved lives and made reopening possible," said Shah. "While this step forward is exciting, it does not mean the virus is gone or our work is over. Vaccination, testing and precautions like wearing masks if you are unvaccinated will be needed more than ever as businesses try to resume normal operations. If you have been waiting to get vaccinated, do it now in order to safely enjoy reopening and protect your loved ones and people around you."

Indoor and outdoor guidance

Effective 12:01 a.m. on June 30, all industry sectors previously covered by guidance in the Healthy Washington – Roadmap to Recovery or the Safe Start Reopening Plan may return to usual capacity and operations, with limited exceptions for large indoor events (any event with more than 10,000 simultaneous participants in an indoor, enclosed space.)

Reopening guidance:

  • Vaccine verification/negative testing: Recommended but not required for large indoor and outdoor events
  • Capacity limitations: No restrictions in restaurants, bars, stores, businesses, theaters etc. (except large indoor events)
  • Physical distancing: No requirements
  • Facial coverings: Not required for vaccinated individuals, unless required by individual business
  • Travelers: Follow CDC recommendations

*Some exceptions will include schools and childcare centers that will continue to have some facial coverings and physical distancing requirements.

Do I have to wear a mask?

The Secretary of Health's mask order remains in place after June 30. It directs unvaccinated people to continue to wear a face-covering in public indoor settings.

Businesses and local authorities retain the right to set more restrictive mask requirements. The state department of health asks Washingtonians to "Respect the rules of the room you're in."

"All people, regardless of vaccination status, are still required to wear masks in certain places, such as schools and health care settings. In most other settings, people who are fully vaccinated do not need to wear a mask."

Here's a look back at the lowlights of Washington's pandemic timeline: 

  • January 21, 2020: CDC confirms first U.S. "novel coronavirus" case in Snohomish County.
  • February 29, 2020: CDC reports first known coronavirus death in Washington state and U.S., a man in his 50s who was a resident of LifeCare Center of Kirkland. Two months later, it was reported that two people in California died of coronavirus on February 6 and February 17, making those victims the first two U.S. deaths.
  • March 3, 2020: LifeCare Center of Kirkland quickly becomes the epicenter of coronavirus spread in Washington and the U.S., accounting for seven of the nine deaths reported. The nursing home was eventually linked to 46 deaths.
  • March 11, 2020: The World Health Organization declares COVID-19 a pandemic.
  • March 13, 2020: President Trump declares national emergency over coronavirus outbreak.
  • March 13, 2020: Governor Inslee announces closure of all schools in Washington state and prohibits "large gatherings."
  • March 16, 2020: Inslee announces that bars, restaurants, entertainment venues and recreation centers must close.
  • March 21, 2020: U.S.-Canadian border closes due to virus concerns. It remains closed through at least July 22, 2021.
  • March 23, 2020: Inslee announces that nonessential businesses must close and residents are told to "stay at home" for two weeks.
  • April 2, 2020: Inslee extends ‘stay-at-home’ order through May 4
  • April 6, 2020: Inslee and state schools Superintendent Chris Reykdal announce that schools will remain closed and distance learning will continue through the end of school year.
  • May 1, 2020: Inslee extends ‘stay-at-home’ order through May 31 and outlines a four-phase plan for reopening.
  • May 15, 2020: Suzi LeVine, the state's former Employment Security Department commissioner, announces that hundreds of millions of dollars in unemployment benefits paid out in Washington went to Nigerian scammers. ESD estimates that $650 million was stolen - with more than $300 million of that recovered. But an audit by the state says the fraud payout may have topped $1 billion.
  • June 5, 2020: Pierce, Snohomish counties approved for Phase 2 reopening under the state's "Safe Start Washington" plan,  bringing restaurants to 50 percent capacity and loosened restrictions for other businesses.
  • June 19, 2020: King County moves to Phase 2 of the state's "Safe Start Washington" plan.
  • June 23, 2020: Inslee issues statewide mask mandate.
  • July 2, 2020: Inslee orders two-week pause on counties advancing in reopening phases due to rising COVID case numbers.
  • July 29, 2020: Inslee extends pause indefinitely for phased reopening.
  • August 19, 2020: Seahawks announce first 3 home games to be played without fans. The Hawks ended up with no fans at home games for the entire season.
  • September 14, 2020: Raging wildfires and poor air quality add to pandemic stressors, delaying COVID-19 testing and events around Western Washington.
  • October 2, 2020: President Trump, First Lady Melania Trump, test positive for COVID-19. The president was hospitalized.
  • October 6, 2020: Inslee eases COVID-19 restrictions on restaurants, theaters in Washington.
  • October 20, 2020: Western Washington enters 'fall surge' as state reports rapid increase in COVID-19 cases.
  • November 16, 2020: Inslee issues new COVID-19 restrictions, including bans on indoor dining, wedding and funeral receptions.
  • December 8, 2020: Inslee extends latest COVID restrictions - again.
  • December 9, 2020: A Lewis County restaurant is fined $67,000 for allowing indoor dining.
  • December 11, 2020: FDA gives emergency-use authorization for Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.
  • December 15, 2020: Health care workers get first doses of COVID-19 vaccines in Washington state.
  • December 16, 2020: Inslee loosens guidelines for reopening schools.
  • December 21, 2020: Moderna vaccine approved for use in Washington.
  • December 30, 2020: Inslee extends the latest restrictions for the second time since issuing them in November.
  • January 5, 2021: Inslee announces a new reopening plan based on counties, not regions. Indoor dining is still banned at this point.
  • January 28, 2021: Some counties resume limited indoor dining and fitness after Inslee changes metrics for latest reopening plan.
  • February 16, 2021: Inslee urges all schools to open up more in-person learning as state continues easing COVID restrictions.
  • March 3, 2021: Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine gets approval in Washington.
  • March 3, 2021: Washington state surpasses 5,000 COVID-19 deaths.
  • March 12, 2021: Inslee issues order for all schools to offer some form of in-person learning. Seattle Public Schools, the state's largest school district, was not offering in-person instruction at all when Inslee issued the order.
  • March 13, 2021: The largest mass vaccination site in the country opens at Lumen Field Event Center in Seattle. It stayed open until June 12.
  • March 22, 2021: Washington moves to Phase 3 of the reopening plan, allowing 50 percent capacity indoors and 9,000 fans at the Mariners home opener.
  • April 12, 2021: Pierce, Cowlitz and Whitman counties roll back to Phase 2 of state's reopening plan.
  • April 13, 2021: Washington follows federal guidelines in temporarily halting use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine due to rare blood clot concerns. The pause was lifted 10 days later.
  • April 15, 2021: All Washingtonians 16 and older become eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.
  • May 4, 2021: Inslee pauses state reopening plan, leaving Pierce County in Phase 2 with more restrictions than surrounding counties.
  • May 4, 2021: State announces "vaccinated sections" for sporting and other entertainment venues to increase seating capacity.
  • May 13, 2021: Inslee announces that all counties are moving to Phase 3 and the state will fully reopen by June 30 - or earlier if 70 percent of eligible Washington residents have at least one dose of the COVID vaccine.
  • June 3, 2021: Inslee announces "Shot of a Lifetime" program, a vaccine lottery with $2 million in cash prizes, along with trips, scholarships and more for people who have been vaccinated. A few days later, the state launches the "Joints for Jabs" program, allowing marijuana dispensaries to give away one free joint for people who get vaccinated at their dispensary.

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