King County Will Apply June 1 to Move Into Modified Phase One, Plans to Increase Testing in South End

by Carolyn Bick

King County will apply for a modified Phase One with eased disease benchmarks under Washington State’s new Safe Start guidelines, which Gov. Jay Inslee announced at a May 29 press conference. King County officials said in a later press conference that they will also increase access to testing in South King County in tandem with the move into the modified Phase One.

Inslee said that the state’s stay home order will expire at midnight on May 31, after which point any county may apply to move forward into a new phase or a modified Phase One. In a press conference following the governor’s, King County Executive Dow Constantine announced that King County will apply to move into a modified Phase One on June 1, which includes opening hair and nail salons at 25 percent capacity and outdoor dining at 50 percent capacity.

Constantine noted that this does not mean King County businesses will be allowed to open under these guidelines on June 1 and they will not be allowed to open under these guidelines until the county’s application is approved by state Secretary of Health John Wiesman.

Despite not quite meeting ideal testing benchmarks, Seattle-King County Public Health Officer Jeff Duchin said that he is “more confident now than at any point in the epidemic” with the capacity and speed of testing available in King County. However, he emphasized that people must come forward to be tested, even if they have only mild symptoms or are asymptomatic, but have been exposed to or are living with a person who has tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Constantine acknowledged the difficulties many communities living in South King County face in accessing testing and said that it has been “a central concern” of the county. Duchin said that the county is currently in the process of increasing testing access in the southern part of the county, including rolling out new mobile testing sites and working with community health workers who live in these communities. He invited feedback from community health leaders to help improve access in these communities and said more will be announced regarding mobile testing sites on June 1.

In his earlier press conference, Inslee said that he made the decision to create a modified Phase One, after reviewing data gathered by the Institute for Disease Modeling (IDM), which he said showed encouraging figures. According to the IDM, the reproductive rate of the virus is now just above 0.5 in western Washington, and appears to be leveling off at under 1.5 in eastern Washington. This means that one person is infecting less than one other person in the western part of the state, while one person is infecting less than 1.5 people in the eastern part of the state.

To apply for a modified Phase One, counties will still have to meet certain benchmarks. For instance, counties will have to show 25 or fewer cases per 100,000 individuals over a 14-day period and have a testing rate of 50 times the number of positive cases, or 2 percent. However, Inslee said that these benchmarks will be assessed holistically, rather than individually, in order to make the best judgement possible. He also said that Wiesman will retain the ability to move counties back if moving into a different phase results in a spike of novel coronavirus cases.

Inslee also announced that stores will be required to post signage encouraging people to wear masks. As before, it will be left up to the discretion of store owners whether or not to require that patrons wear masks, he said. 

In response to a question regarding ensuring that people of color who wear masks aren’t targeted, Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a later press conference that the city condemns any acts of violence based on race and encouraged anyone who sees or experiences race-based violence to call 911.

Throughout the pandemic, Asians and Asian Americans have been targets of racist attacks both locally and nationally. At least two incidents occurred as recently as last week.

Carolyn Bick is a journalist and photographer based in South Seattle. You can reach them here.

Featured photo: Public Health Officer Jeff Duchin. File photo.