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Inslee eases coronavirus restrictions on movie theaters, restaurants, youth sports

Washington will allow movie theaters to reopen in parts of the state and some youth sports to resume based on county metrics.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday the state will loosen some coronavirus restrictions around restaurants, businesses and youth sports.

“We have found a way to do these things safely with minimal risk,” Inslee said.

New rules will allow movie theaters to reopen in about 85% of the state, according to Inslee. Counties in Phase 2 can reopen theaters at 25%, and counties in Phase 3 can reopen theaters at 50%. Theater guests must wear masks and social distance.

Libraries can also reopen indoor operations at 25% capacity in Phase 2.

The restriction that prohibited people from dining at restaurants indoors with people outside their household has been removed, which Inslee said he hopes boosts business. Alcohol service is extended from 10 p.m. until 11 p.m., and table sizes are increased to six people for counties in Phase 2 and eight people for counties in Phase 3.

RELATED: Reopening Washington: Look up the phase of your county

Some youth sports will also be allowed to resume based on certain health metrics, according to state guidance.

Counties with high COVID-19 activity, which is more than 75 new cases per 100,000 people over 14 days, can resume league games for low-risk sports, which includes tennis, swimming, golf and cross country. Counties with moderate COVID-19 activity, which is between 25 and 75 new cases per 100,000 people over 14 days, can resume league games for low- and moderate-risk activities, which includes softball, baseball, soccer, volleyball, gymnastics and bowling. Counties with low COVID-19 activity, which is fewer than 25 new cases per 100,000 people over 14 days, can resume league games for low-, moderate- and high-risk sports, which includes football, basketball, wrestling and cheerleading and dance with contact.

Under the new rules, real estate agents can also hold open houses again, as long as they abide by county gathering size mandates. 

Counties in Phase 3 can hold wedding receptions with 50 guests.

Inslee also urged residents to wear masks to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, especially heading into colder weather when people will be spending more time indoors.

Inslee said the state has seen "good compliance" with the state order to wear masks, but increased compliance "will help us knock down the infection even more."

During the press conference, Dr. Joshua Schiffer, an infectious disease physician and researcher at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, pointed to his clinic's research that shows mask use not only helps prevent the spread of the virus but can also lessen the strength of the virus.

As of Tuesday, there are 90,276 confirmed coronavirus cases in Washington state, according to the state Department of Health (DOH). There were 414 new cases reported Sunday, which is the most recent date that data was available.

New daily cases have been trending upward since mid-September, increasing from a seven-day rolling average of 349 new cases on Sept. 12 to 430 new cases on Sept. 21, according to DOH.

However, Inslee said officials believe this uptick was caused by one-time evets, such as Labor Day parties and wildfire smoke that forced people indoors.

"We hope they are so we can get back on the track of knocking these numbers down again," Inslee said.