Washington Governor Jay Inslee announced Thursday the state is moving to Phase 3 of its reopening plan, clearing the way for increased attendance at outdoor high school sporting events, as well as the basketball and wrestling seasons starting on time.
In the new phase, up to 400 people can attend outdoor and indoor activities, as long as 400 does not surpass 50 percent capacity. Indoor facilities may hold 50 percent occupancy. Outdoor stadiums with permanent seating will be allowed to hold 25 percent capacity.
The move will go into effect March 22. And the news that high school sports may increase attendance goes into effect March 18, in order for parents to be allowed into games before the first season ends.
“We have updated our members so they can plan accordingly,” WIAA executive director Mick Hoffman said. “We are happy the Governor’s Office and DOH (have) provided more opportunities for parents and others to watch students in person.”
Currently, outdoor events have a 200-person capacity, which includes players, staff and all personnel. Potential spectators, including parents, have had to watch games on livestreams.
Before the announcement, the basketball and wrestling seasons did not have a clear path to start on time, a lead factor in why leagues across the state moved the season to the end of the school year calendar. But they’re now permitted to start, though masks will be required by everyone present and tournaments are prohibited.
The department of health deemed the sports high risk for transmission due to the nature of close physical contact and concern about ventilation of facilities for indoor sports. The WIAA’s pandemic-adjusted calendar slates the spring season for an April 26 start, though some leagues across the state have had the option to start at different times. Many have, like the Metro League, which starts its winter/spring combined seasons on April 19.
The news comes as the state has seen a slowing of the spread of the virus. Over the last 14 days, Washington has seen a 17 percent drop in COVID-19 cases, 49 percent drop in COVID-related deaths and 26 percent drop in coronavirus-related hospitalizations, according to The New York Times.
State and WIAA officials have long maintained the state’s reopening plan hinges on the vaccine rollout and current case trends. In the days leading up to the announcement Hoffman had become more optimistic that the state was on track to move to Phase 3 after speaking with the governor’s office and department of health.
“People have politicized vaccinations, no different than masks and everything else in our world now,” Hoffman said on Tuesday, “but man, what we’re hearing and seeing is if people are vaccinated, we can get back to closer to what we want a heck of a lot sooner.”
Phase 3 metrics will go back to being measured by county and reassessed every three weeks, and a county’s status depends on whether or not it upholds COVID trends. Previously under the state’s Healthy Washington plan, the state was split into eight regions based on the locations of healthcare systems and metrics were measured every two weeks.
Counties with more than 50,000 residents must hold at or below a 200 COVID cases per 100,000 people and a weeklong averaged of five or fewer hospitalizations per 100,000. For smaller counties, the new case average must remain at least 30 new cases per 100,000 on a 14-day average and a seven-day average of three or fewer hospitalizations, Inslee said in a post on Medium. Counties where the intensive care unit capacity surpasses 90 percent will move down one phase.
The announcement occurred on the one year mark, to the date, of Inslee implementing statewide shutdowns in the pandemic’s outset.
(Lead photo by Vince Miller)