A King County Metro bus driver wipes down a handrail before stepping onto a bus Monday in Seattle. The coronavirus pandemic has plunged Puget Sound-area transit agencies into crisis-planning mode, as ridership and revenue has plunged and predictions that people will not be returning to buses and trains in large numbers any time soon. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

A King County Metro bus driver wipes down a handrail before stepping onto a bus Monday in Seattle. The coronavirus pandemic has plunged Puget Sound-area transit agencies into crisis-planning mode, as ridership and revenue has plunged and predictions that people will not be returning to buses and trains in large numbers any time soon. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Three more counties can ease virus restrictions early

Total of eight approved

The Associated Press

SEATTLE — Three more rural Washington counties have been given the OK to relax some COVID-19 stay-at-home restrictions early as the state moves through the reopening process.

Secretary of Health John Wiesman on Monday approved applications from Wahkiakum, Skamania, and Stevens counties to move into Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s reopening plan. Columbia, Garfield, Lincoln, Ferry and Pend Oreille counties had previously been given the go-ahead to enter Phase 2.

Jefferson and Grays Harbor counties also are eligible to apply for early Phase 2.

In Phase 2 among the things that would be allowed are in-store retail purchases, with some restrictions, hair salons, barbers and restaurants at half capacity and tables of less than five people.

Inslee last week announced that his stay-at-home restrictions would be extended through at least May 31 and said there will be a four-stage phase for lifting of restrictions. There will be a minimum of three weeks between each phase, but rural counties that meet certain metrics are allowed to apply to speed up the phases.

To apply for a variance, counties must have a population of less than 75,000 and no new cases of COVID-19 in the last three weeks.

Inslee has already eased some restrictions across the state, allowing parks to reopen, fishing and golf. And last Friday Inslee said that curb-side retail sales in Washington could begin almost immediately for businesses with reopening plans approved by health officials.

More than 17,100 people in Washington state have tested positive for the virus and at least 945 have died. The virus causes mild to moderate symptoms in most patients, and the vast majority recover. But it is highly contagious and can cause severe illness and death in some patients, particularly the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.

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