Whitman County is one of three Washington counties that will move back to Phase 2 in Washington’s phased reopening plan, Gov. Jay Inslee’s office announced Monday.

Whitman, Cowlitz and Pierce counties failed to meet COVID-19 metrics related to new cases and hospitalizations. They must return to a phase with tighter restrictions on businesses and gatherings.

“It seems like we took one step forward only to take two steps back,” said Pullman Chamber of Commerce Director Marie Dymkoski.

Indoor capacity for restaurants, retail stores and gyms will be reduced from 50 percent to 25 percent. More flexibility is allowed in restaurants that allow eating and drinking in open air environments.

Indoor social gatherings are limited to five people from outside the household. Outdoor gatherings in Whitman County are limited to 10 people because of a county emergency order issued April 2.

For indoor spectator events the occupancy of the facility may not exceed 25 percent of the fire code occupancy rating, or 200 people max, whichever is less.

For outdoor spectator events the occupancy of the facility may not exceed 25 percent of seated capacity, or 200 people max, whichever is less

College sporting events can continue to operate with spectators under the higher Phase 3 limits if they have an approved plan.

Whitman County failed to meet two of the metrics required to remain in Phase 3 after a recent surge in COVID-19 cases tied to the virus spreading among college students in Pullman.

Counties will be evaluated again May 3.

Dymkoski said local businesses have done a good job of following protocols to keep people safe, yet they are going to be hit the hardest by this return to Phase 2.

She said some are in a difficult situation because they hired new staff members when Whitman County moved to Phase 3 and now it is unclear if they can keep those new hires.

Additionally, Pullman businesses will enter the normally slower time of year when the local college students leave for the summer, she said.

Starting Thursday, all people 16 and older will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine in Washington.

Whitman County Public Health Director Chris Skidmore said Monday he is optimistic local vaccine clinics will be able to handle an increase in the number of people signing up to get shots, provided Whitman County receives enough doses.

He said nearly 1,200 people received their vaccinations this past weekend at a clinic hosted by Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories.

“And that should be a pretty good stress test of what our system should be capable of once we open up eligibility on (Thursday),” he said. “That was the biggest clinic that we’ve run so far in Whitman County and I think we should be able to handle maybe upwards of 1,500 folks in a single day there.”

Whitman County reported 33 new COVID-19 cases since Friday and no new deaths. One COVID-19-related death was reported Friday. There have been a total of 47 deaths and 99 hospitalizations, to date, because of the virus.

Twelve new cases have been reported in Latah County since Friday. Six of the newest patients are between ages 18-29, three are in their 30s, two are in their 40s and one is in their 50s.

There have been a total of 2,822 confirmed cases, 158 probable cases and 10 deaths in Latah County. One new Latah County death because of the virus was reported Friday.

Kuipers can be reached at akuipers@dnews.com.

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