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Children leave an artistic message in chalk on a North Seattle street.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Dyer Oxley

King County aims for Phase 2 of reopening. What does that mean?

King County could be easing pandemic restrictions slightly within just a matter of days. The county applied this week to move into Phase 2 of the state's reopening plan.

Reporter Kate Walters joined KUOW’s Angela King to explain why the county is moving to allow more activity.

Angela King: Where do things stand right now for King County?

Kate Walters: Well, for a couple of weeks now, the county has been in what they're calling modified Phase 1 of reopening and that was kind of a cautious first step for them. It means some activity has resumed, but at low levels. So for instance, restaurants can currently serve customers at 25% of their indoor capacity as long as tables of six feet apart. Of course anyone reopening their business must meet the state's public health guidance to do so.

How does this compare to other areas of the state?

The governance plan allowed each county to apply separately to move forward into different reopening phases. So we're sort of seeing piecemeal reopening across the state. The state reviews those applications and they look at key public health metrics, like what's happening with the number of cases in that county, there testing capability, the personal protective equipment supplies they might have, you know, how many healthcare beds they have opened, things like that. Right now, there are only a handful of other counties that are still in Phase 1 or a modified Phase 1.

So what would moving to Phase 2 mean for people in King County?

It would mean that restaurants, salons, tattoo parlors, pet groomers and a whole lot of other businesses would be able to basically welcome more customers inside. In general it would double the current indoor capacity limits so restaurants would be able to serve at 50% capacity with limited table size. It also means more outdoor recreation options with five or fewer people outside your households, things like camping or going to the beach. And officials are stressing that this additional activity, if it's approved by the state also means ongoing risk. And so they're really urging people to be more vigilant about things like wearing face coverings, washing your hands, distancing and staying home if you're sick.

If state officials do allow for more activity, does that mean we're seeing fewer cases here?

Maybe not. A recent report showed COVID-19 cases are actually increasing in both Western and Eastern Washington. And according to data from public health, Seattle and King County, the reproductive number here in King County, which is a key metric that officials look at, has been a little above the level that they actually want.

So if that reproductive number was higher than they'd like them, why do county officials move to ease the restrictions even further?

King County Executive Dow Constantine says that the county's numbers are sort of hovering in the safe zone or right at the border for the state's public health metrics. And he says that the public health officials feel comfortable moving forward. He also says both public health and economic impacts need to be weighed as the county considers reopening. And experts aren't seeing a lot of public health downsides in moving forward at this point.