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More counties in Washington state face phase rollbacks as COVID-19 case rates rise

Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to announce which counties will move from Phase 3 back to Phase 2 on May 4.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Counties across Washington will soon find out if they'll stay in Phase 3 of the state's reopening plan or move back to Phase 2.

State officials will evaluate COVID-19 metrics on May 3. 

On May 4, Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to announce if any counties will move phases. 

Counties from the coast to the eastern side of the state are at risk of being moved back to Phase 2. As of April 29, 16 counties, including six in western Washington, did not meet at least one metric to remain in Phase 3 of the “Healthy Washington” plan.

Under Inslee’s current reopening plan, counties will be evaluated every three weeks on two metrics: The case rate over two weeks and the hospitalization rate over one week. Although counties originally had to meet both metrics to avoid moving backward, Inslee announced April 9 counties could remain in Phase 3 by meeting one metric.

In western Washington, King, Kitsap, Lewis, Pacific, Skagit and Snohomish counties were failing both metrics as of April 25, and could be forced back to Phase 2. For weeks, health officials in King and Snohomish counties have warned of a potential rollback.

RELATED: Does your county meet metrics to stay in Phase 3? Check this map

Cowlitz, Pierce, and Whitman counties were the first to be moved back to Phase 2 after all counties were moved to Phase 3 as the state ditched its former regional reopening plan to a county-by-county based system.

It's possible Inslee could change the rules at the last minute, making it easier for counties with higher case counts to stay in their current phase. He's done that in the past, but an Inslee spokesperson said any decisions on rollbacks will depend on the Department of Health metrics.

Under Phase 3, indoor spaces, like restaurants and movie theaters, can have 50% occupancy. Up to 400 people can attend indoor and outdoor activities, such as concerts and high school graduations, as long as physical distancing and masking are enforced. Outdoor events with permanent facilities can have 25% occupancy for spectators.

Phase 2 restricts occupancy in indoor spaces at 25% and caps small indoor group gatherings at five people.

Sporting events are exempt from phase rollbacks and are allowed to operate by Phase 3 guidelines, which means teams like the Mariners and Sounders can keep seating up to 9,000 people even if King County gets moved back to Phase 2.