County status and Safe Start application process

A Phased Approach to Reopening

In May, Governor Jay Inslee announced a county-based phased reopening plan that allows for flexibility and local control to address COVID-19 activity. The secretary of the state’s Department of Health reviews and approves county applications to move to a new phase. The secretary may approve a county to move entirely to a new phase, or may approve only partial or modified reopening.

UPDATE: COVID-19 continues to be a serious threat in Washington state. The trends we are seeing in our communities and across the country are very concerning.On July 28, Gov. Inslee extended the pause indefinitely on counties moving ahead in the Safe Start Washington plan.

The list below and our Risk Assessment Dashboard display each county’s current phase. Visit our What’s Open page to learn more about the activities allowed for each phase. Our Safe Start page includes business guidance for safe reopening.

Modified Phase 1 Counties

Phase 2 Counties

  • Adams
  • Clallam
  • Clark
  • Cowlitz
  • Grant
  • Jefferson
  • King
  • Kitsap
  • Klickitat
  • Okanogan
  • Pierce
  • San Juan
  • Skagit
  • Snohomish
  • Spokane
  • Walla Walla
  • Whatcom

Phase 3 Counties

  • Asotin
  • Columbia
  • Ferry
  • Garfield
  • Grays Harbor
  • Island
  • Kittitas
  • Lewis
  • Lincoln
  • Mason
  • Pacific
  • Pend Oreille
  • Skamania
  • Stevens
  • Thurston
  • Wahkiakum
  • Whitman

Phase 4 Counties

  • No counties

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the eligibility criteria for a county to apply to move into a new phase?

Each county must demonstrate they have adequate local hospital bed capacity as well as adequate PPE supplies to keep health care workers safe. These are some of the metrics the Secretary of Health will evaluate in addition to other information provided by counties. The state’s risk assessment dashboard provides data on several of these key metrics.

  • COVID-19 activity: The ideal target for new cases will be 25 or fewer per 100,000 residents over a 14-day period. Hospitalizations for COVID should be flat or decreasing.
  • Healthcare system readiness: The available hospital beds in a given jurisdiction would preferably be at less than 80% occupancy.
  • Testing: Counties should show they have adequate testing capacity, 50 times as many people per day as they have confirmed new cases per day – which equates to positive test results under 2%. They also need to show rapid turnaround time for test results, ensuring that we can work effectively to contain the virus.
  • Case and contact investigations: The goal is to contact 90 percent of cases by phone or in person within 24 hours of receipt of a positive lab test result. There is also a goal of reaching all that person’s contacts within 48 hours of a positive test result. Additionally, there are goals to make contact with each case and contact during their home isolation or quarantine to help ensure their success.
  • Protecting high-risk populations: The ideal number of outbreaks reported by week – defined as two or more non-household cases where transmission occurred at work, in congregate living, or in an institutional setting – is zero for counties under 75,000, and no higher than three for our largest counties.
  • Additional information is available in the governor's plan.

What does the application process involve?

Starting June 1, counties that wish to apply to the next phase must:

  • Submit a signed application from the County Executive. If a county does not have a County Executive, the County Council/Commission must approve the submittal.
  • The Secretary of Health will evaluate the county’s application based on how their data compare to the targets outline in the Safe Start plan, as well as the information provided by the county about their ability to respond to situations such as outbreaks, increased deaths and other COVID-19 activity.
  • The final decision on whether a county is ready to implement a variance program is made by the Secretary of Health. The secretary may approve a county moving in whole to the next phase, or may only approve certain activities in the next phase.
  • COVID-19 County Safe Start Application: Moving from Phase 1 to Phase 2
  • COVID-19 County Safe Start Application: Moving from Phase 2 to Phase 3

The county’s application must include the following information:

  • A certification letter from each local hospital addressing specific data elements.
  • COVID-19 testing site plans.
  • COVID-19 testing data (number of positive and negative results, etc.).
  • Number of people trained and ready to perform case investigations and contact tracing.
  • Plans to house people in isolation or quarantine who do not have a home or wish to isolate or quarantine themselves outside of their home.
  • Plans to provide case management services to cases and contacts in isolation and quarantine.
  • Plans to rapidly respond to outbreaks in congregate settings.

How long are counties in each phase?

Approval to move from Phase 2 to Phase 3 will require a separate application. The earliest an application can be made to move to Phase 3 is 3 weeks after approval has been granted for moving to Phase 2, and will require health officer recommendation to the Board of Health, the Board of Health’s approval, and the county executive (or if there is not a county executive, county council/commission approval).

What does the approval process look like? Can an approval be revoked if circumstances change in the county?

The Department of Health will review all variance requests based on the criteria outlined in the application process. Additional information may be sought if the application materials are incomplete, unclear, or need further explanation. County variance applications will be approved as submitted, approved with modifications, or denied by the Secretary of Health. A variance may be modified or revoked if circumstances change within the jurisdiction, such as a significant outbreak, no or minimal access to COVID-19 testing, no surge capacity in area hospitals, inadequate PPE supplies, or inadequate case and contact investigations.