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COVID-19 closures timeline: Washington to reopen after nearly 15 months

Here's a timeline of closures and restrictions since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

SPOKANE, Wash — Washington state is set to reopen Wednesday after more than a year of coronavirus restrictions.

All people, regardless of vaccinations, will still have to wear masks in places like schools, hospitals and public transit.

Businesses could also still choose to require them.

The head of the state hospitality association says restaurant employees will still have to wear masks unless they can prove to their bosses they've been fully vaccinated.

The first confirmed COVID-19 case reported in the U.S. was on January 20, 2020 when a Snohomish County man returned home from Wuhan, China. Then, on March 23, 2020, Governor Jay Inslee issued the Stay Home, Stay Healthy Order. Nearly 15 months later, the entire state will reopen following months of vaccination efforts.

Here's a timeline of restrictions and closures in Washington state throughout the pandemic.

March 17, 2020 – Inslee closes schools and prohibits large gatherings

Inslee expanded school closures and prohibited large gatherings to the entire state in an effort to slow the spread of the new coronavirus while state health officials reported more than 560 people have tested positive.

The orders did the following:

  • Closed all K-12 private and public schools across the state of Washington, from March 17 to Friday April 24.
  • Restricted activity at statewide universities, schools and apprenticeships. There was no in-person learning. They may continue online learning. Labs continued with social distancing. Administration, safety, dormitories and medical clinics stayed open.
  • Gatherings larger than 250 people were prohibited.
  • Restricted visitors and protocols for staff at assisted living and nursing care facilities will be expanded to adult family homes.

March 19, 2020 - Former Spokane County Health Officer Bob Lutz closes playgrounds

Lutz closed playgrounds on March 19 due to coronavirus concerns, as health officials were worried about congregations of people using the same equipment.

He added that this does not include state parks, tennis courts, basketball courts, golf courses and other open spaces.

March 23, 2020 - Inslee issues "Stay Home, Stay Healthy" order

Inslee issued a statewide order to stay-at-home and stay healthy to help slow the spread of coronavirus on March 23, 2020. It was initially set to last for two weeks.

Only essential businesses remained open to the public, including grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations and restaurants offering take-out.

March 24, 2020 – Washington state parks close

All state parks in Washington  closed for at least two weeks following Gov. Jay Inslee's "Stay Home, Stay Healthy" order issued.

The closures includes all state-managed parks, wildlife areas and water access area. Entrance gates and facilities were closed and on-site public services were suspended.

March 25, 2020 - Washington State Department of Natural Resources closes all its lands

Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz issued the following statement:

"This was not an easy decision. We treasure our forests and trails and beaches as places of rejuvenation and refuge from the chaos of daily life. But, I cannot ignore the unfortunate reality of what we saw this weekend: crowded trails, people shoulder to shoulder, and large gatherings. This behavior undercuts the sacrifices that Washingtonians of all means and ability are making in order to adhere to social distancing. And it undercuts the heroic efforts of our doctors, nurses, and first responders who risk their lives each day responding to this unrelenting epidemic.

“This behavior also makes clear that, while we have taken drastic measures, we have not done enough when it comes to closing areas where large crowds gather and communicating the importance of staying at home and avoiding physical contact with others.

“The disruptions we are experiencing are difficult and challenging – and unprecedented in our lifetimes. But they are necessary. We must bend the curve. And if we all do our part, these temporary disruptions will save countless lives.”

Golf courses in Spokane County and the city were also closed, while county and city parks remained open.

May 1, 2020 - Gov. Inslee extends stay-home order

Inslee extended the state’s stay-home order through May 31, along with unveiling a four-phase approach to reopening the state.

He said Phase 1 could be implemented fully by mid-May. Inslee did not give a firm timeline on the next phases, though he said it would be at least three weeks between each reopening phase.

May 19, 2020 - Spokane County becomes eligible for Phase 2

Spokane County became eligible to apply for Phase 2 of reopening, Washington state officials announced.

The following counties had already been approved for Phase 2: Asotin, Columbia, Garfield, Lincoln, Ferry, Pend Oreille, Skamania, Stevens, Wahkiakum, and Whitman.

May 22, 2020 - Spokane County approved for Phase 2

Spokane County officially entered into Phase 2 of reopening after Washington state approved its application for reopening.

Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward said the city was "open for business." She added that compliance with the Phase 2 guidelines was "voluntary."

Woodward did, however, ask Spokane residents to wear masks and practice social distancing.

July 17, 2020 - Gatherings drive COVID-19 curve

Public health officials continued to see rising COVID-19 case counts following Spokane County's move into Phase 2 of reopening.

Dr. Bob Lutz, former Spokane Regional Health Officer, said on July 17, 2020, that the county had been "trending up for a number of weeks." At that point, the incidence rate in Spokane County was 166 per 100,000 people as opposed to 10 per 100,000 people when the county entered into Phase 2.

Nov. 14, 2020 - Inslee announces new COVID-19 restrictions

Gov. Jay Inslee announced new statewide restrictions to help curb coronavirus spread, including the closure of indoor service for restaurants and bars and prohibition of indoor social gatherings. His announcement came amid record-breaking levels of COVID-19 spread in Washington state.

The most severe restrictions on activity since the pandemic began mostly went into effect on Monday, Nov. 16 at 11:59 p.m.

Dec. 8, 2020 - Inslee extends existing restrictions

Citing a high number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalized patients, Inslee extended the state's restrictions on indoor dining, gyms and several other industries until Jan. 4, 2021.

Health officials said the number of hospitalized patients was rising in December.

Dec. 30, 2020 - Inslee extends existing restrictions for second time

Gov. Jay Inslee again extended the state's COVID-19 restrictions until Jan. 11.

Since the restrictions were announced, Inslee issued other proclamations to reduce the spread of COVID-19. They included a requirement that people traveling from the United Kingdom and South Africa quarantine for 14 days when they arrive in Washington state.

Feb. 11, 2021 - Inslee announces Spokane County's Phase 2 move

Washington Governor Jay Inslee announced on Thursday, Feb. 11 that the East region of the state, including Spokane County, would move into Phase 2 of reopening on Feb. 15. He later changed the date to Valentine's Day so people could celebrate the holiday.

The move into Phase 2 allowed indoor establishments in Eastern Washington to reopen at 25% capacity, including restaurants and fitness centers. Wedding receptions were also allowed in Phase 2, with some restrictions in place.

March 11, 2021 - Inslee announces Phase 3 move

After weeks of uncertainty about the next steps in Washington state's reopening plan, Inslee announced that all counties, including Spokane, would move into Phase 3 on March 22, 2021.

 Phase 3 allows for 50% capacity in indoor spaces, including restaurants and gyms, 25% capacity for outdoor sporting events, and expanded capacity for high school and youth sports, among other changes.