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Five more regions advance to Phase 2

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Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday that five more regions will move to Phase 2 of the state's reopening plan, Healthy Washington - Roadmap to Recovery. As of Sunday, seven of the eight regions in the state will be in Phase 2. These regions represent more than 90 percent of the state's population.

The following regions will stay in Phase 1: South Central

The following regions will stay in Phase 2: Puget Sound, West

The following regions will move from Phase 1 to Phase 2: East, North, North Central, Northwest, Southwest

The following regions will move from Phase 2 to Phase 1: None

Regions are required to meet three of the four public health metrics to progress to Phase 2. The South Central region, the only one to remain in Phase 1, currently meets two of the four metrics.

The four metrics are:

Trend in case rate: Trend in 14-day rate of new COVID-19 cases per 100K population;

Trend in hospital admissions rate: Trend in 14-day rate of new COVID-19 hospital admissions per 100K population;

Percent ICU occupancy: Average 7-day percent occupancy of ICU staffed beds; and

Percent positivity: 7-day percent positive of COVID-19 tests.

The metrics provide an overview of current COVID-19 trends and health care system readiness in each region, ensuring that health care systems will efficiently and equitably respond to potential future outbreaks. If any region fails to meet any two metrics, they will still regress to Phase 1.

After initially announcing the regions would move forward Monday, the governor announced Thursday evening that the five regions progressing will be able to do so starting Sunday, Feb. 14. The holiday weekend provides a large portion of a restaurant's yearly revenue, and moving up the region's reopening date will allow dining establishments to benefit.

"I know this creates more options for restaurants to make Valentine's Day special for couples who hoped they could have a night out," Inslee said. "I am confident people, young and old, will celebrate safely. And if it's a first date that doesn't go well, remind them to stay six feet away from you."

Inslee Puts $87 Million More

into Business, Rental Assistance

Gov. Inslee also authorized the Department of Commerce to distribute another $87 million for additional rental assistance and business assistance programs. That distribution will be split evenly toward those goals, about $43.5 million each, funded through the state's Disaster Response Account.

"We need to use this funding to keep our relief efforts going until new federal relief funding becomes available this spring," Inslee said.

The governor previously authorized Commerce to distribute $110 million in rental assistance to more than 30,000 households in Washington.

The additional $43.5 million going to business assistance grants can be used to provide for expenses for businesses impacted by the pandemic. These funds can be used for rent, mortgage and utility assistance, technical assistance, and to help prevent the permanent closure of a business.

Since the pandemic began, the governor has authorized Commerce to distribute almost $200 million for business and non-profit assistance.

$2.2 Billion Covid

Package on Inslee's Desk

It was a week full of developments for COVID relief legislation, including passage of HB 1368, which will provide $2.2 billion to help our state respond to the pandemic, making investments in rental assistance, small business grants, food assistance, vaccine administration and more. The bill received strong bipartisan support and is a critical step in the state's budgetary response to COVID-19. This legislation is separate from the biennial budget, which is currently being crafted and will likely provide additional investments.

The other bill to pass the Legislature, HB 1095, will ensure businesses don't have to pay Business and Occupation (B&O) taxes on money received through emergency assistance grants from the state or federal government.

The House also acted on a number of other governor-request bills. The Healthy Homes and Clean Buildings Act was voted out of the House Environment and Energy Committee, and legislation implementing a clean fuel standard was voted out of the Appropriations Committee. Request legislation to move the state towards regional health districts was also voted out of committee this week. In the Senate, SB 5149 has been voted out of the Health and Long Term Care Committee. The bill would create a permanent funding structure for public health.

The governor signed legislation he requested this session that would avert significant increases on unemployment insurance taxes owed by employers who experience unforeseen layoffs in 2020 due to the pandemic. The legislation also improves benefits for workers, while avoiding $1.7 billion in new taxes on businesses over the next five years.

The 105-day legislative session is set to run through the end of April.

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