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Washington State’s New Re-Opening Plan


January 13, 2021 by Jill Dvorkin
Category: Open Public Meetings Act , Operating Policies , COVID-19

Washington State’s New Re-Opening Plan

As of January 11, Washington State is operating under a new COVID-19 reopening plan called the Healthy Washington  —  Roadmap to Recovery, made effective through Governor Jay Inslee’s Proclamation 20-25.12. This blog will provide an overview of the plan and how it may impact local governments, including their ability to conduct in-person public meetings.

The Roadmap to Recovery

While the previous Stay Safe -Stay Healthy plan (the most recent version at Proclamation 20-25.11) followed a four-phase reopening approach based on metrics measured at the county level, the new plan divides the state into eight regions with just two recovery phases.

The eight regions in the Roadmap to Recovery are based largely on Emergency Medical Services (EMS) regions used for evaluating healthcare services. The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) will evaluate each region based on a set of four metrics every Friday, with any changing to the phasing occurring the following Monday. The metrics look at trends in COVID-19 disease rate, hospital admission rate, intensive care unit (ICU) occupancy, and COVID-19 test positivity rate.

The first Roadmap to Recovery Report was issued by the DOH on Friday, January 8. Every region is currently in Phase 1. A region must meet all four metrics to move from Phase 1 to Phase 2. A region must meet three of four metrics to remain in Phase 2. The following chart lists the activities allowed in Phases 1 and 2.

Roadmap_Recovery_618w

Click on the image to open a larger version.

How Does This New Plan Affect Local Governments?

We don’t interpret the latest plan as resulting in many changes to how local governments may operate.

Open Public Meetings

Governor Inslee’s latest Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) and Public Records Act (PRA) Proclamation 20-28.14 is in effect through January 19. This proclamation requires that all meetings subject to the OPMA be held remotely but provides an option for an in-person meeting component consistent with the business meetings guidance in Proclamation 20-25.11. Because in-person business meetings were prohibited through January 11 in Proclamation 20-25.11, so too were in-person public meetings (see this blog post for more).

While the new Roadmap to Recovery does not explicitly say so, we understand from the governor’s office that in-person business meetings continue to be prohibited. Although Proclamation 20-25.11 (which included the business meeting guidance) expired January 11, this Roadmap to Recovery “extends all of the prohibitions described in Proclamations 20-25, et seq., except as amended herein.” Therefore, the in-person public meeting option remains unavailable through at least January 19 (the expiration date of the current OPMA Proclamation 20-28.14). We will be watching closely for additional guidance and/or updated proclamations regarding public meetings.

General Government Operations

The guidance available under the new Roadmap to Recovery is silent as to local government operations. In the previous phased re-opening plans, “customer-facing government services” were not allowed to resume until Phase 3. Aside from that, there was little express guidance regarding day-to-day government operations within the earlier plans.

This is likely because many local government services are assumed to be essential services. The governor’s office had previously confirmed to MRSC that government offices were not considered “professional offices” or “miscellaneous venues” under prior versions of the Stay Healthy — Stay Safe Proclamation 20-25, but that teleworking was nevertheless strongly encouraged. Therefore, it’s been largely at the discretion of local governments how to conduct their operations, within CDC recommended parameters. See also the governor’s memo to local governments encouraging them to use the Safe Start Reopening Guide for State Agencies in developing their own Safe Start plans.

We’ve consistently recommended that local governments go through the essential services/worker analysis in developing their operational plans (see this March 2020 blog post — although note that it was written when the original stay home order was in place; i.e., everything was shut down except for essential services). In short, if work can be accomplished remotely, it should be. If it cannot, then in-person or onsite work can occur if all physical distancing, masking, and state safety protocols set forth in the proclamations are followed. We’ve also recommended agencies adhere to the gathering limits in previous versions of the plan. With the new Roadmap for Recovery, we now recommend following the Professional Services guidance for work that must be done in-person in an office, which sets a 25% capacity limit for those spaces.

Note: It’s unclear whether the customer-facing government services may resume under the new reopening plan, although a conservative interpretation is that local governments in Phase 1 regions should not be providing such in-person services. The latest proclamation states the new Roadmap to Recovery “extends all of the prohibitions described in Proclamations 20-25, et seq., except as amended herein.”

Conclusion

The guidance from the state changes frequently and can be challenging to follow. Nevertheless, we think it’s important to keep in mind that these restrictions and prohibitions are in place to try to limit the spread of the disease and mitigate the burden on the state’s healthcare systems and resources. So, when agencies are in doubt as to what to do, we recommend erring on the side of minimizing person-to-person interaction. As always, we recommend consulting with your agency’s legal counsel with questions and keeping a close eye on MRSC’s website for the latest guidance regarding local government operations during the COVID-19 emergency.


MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Jill Dvorkin

Jill joined MRSC as a legal consultant in June 2016 after working for nine years as a civil deputy prosecuting attorney for Skagit County. At Skagit County, Jill advised the planning department on a wide variety of issues including permit processing and appeals, Growth Management Act (GMA) compliance, code enforcement, SEPA, legislative process, and public records. Jill was born and raised in Fargo, ND, then moved to Bellingham to attend college and experience a new part of the country (and mountains!). She earned a B.A. in Environmental Policy and Planning from Western Washington University and graduated with a J.D. from the University of Washington School of Law in 2003.

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