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COVID-19 Reopening Plan, Proclamation Extensions, and Government Operations


February 2, 2021  by  Jill Dvorkin
Category:  Strategies and Programs Open Public Meetings Act Public Records Act COVID-19

COVID-19 Reopening Plan, Proclamation Extensions, and Government Operations

Editor's note: For more recent information, see our blog post COVID-19 and Local Governments: Where Things Stand as of March 22, 2021.


This updated blog sets out our latest understanding of where things stand for local governments based on a recent conversation with Governor Jay Inslee’s office clarifying some questions related to daily government operations and conducting open public meetings during the COVID-19 emergency.

As of January 11, Washington State is operating under the new COVID-19 reopening plan called the Healthy Washington  —  Roadmap to Recovery, made effective through the governor’s Proclamation 20-25.12. And on January 19, the governor extended 26 proclamations, including the OPMA/PRA Proclamation 20-28.15, through the duration of the COVID-19 emergency or until rescinded. This followed action by the legislature on January 15, which passed SCR 8402, extending statutory waivers and suspensions contained within those 26 proclamations.

For now, agencies in Phase 1 jurisdictions still may not hold an in-person component to their public meetings. Phase 2 jurisdictions may have an in-person public meeting component, limited to 25% capacity or 200 people, whichever is fewer, and consistent with the revised Miscellaneous Venues guidance. Local government operations are to be guided by locally-developed operational plans, described further below.

OPMA/PRA Proclamation 20-28.15 

The latest OPMA/PRA Proclamation 20-28.15 states, in relevant part:

Proclamations 20-28, et seq., are amended to (1) recognize the extension of statutory waivers and suspensions therein by the Washington State Legislature until termination of the state of emergency pursuant to RCW 43.06.210, or until rescinded, and (2) similarly extend the prohibitions therein until termination of the state of emergency pursuant to RCW 43.06.210, or until rescinded, whichever occurs first.

So, what does this mean for public meetings? Because this is a simple extension of the previous proclamation (version 14), we must look to Proclamation 20-28.14 to determine the rules applicable to meetings subject to the OPMA. Proclamation 20-28.14 requires that all public meetings must be held remotely but provides an option for an in-person meeting component consistent with the business meetings requirements contained in the Miscellaneous Venues guidance, which is incorporated into Proclamation 20-25, et seq. The relevant language states:

As an exception to the above prohibition, public agencies holding public meetings may, at their option and in addition to hosting the remote meeting elements described above, include an in-person component to a public meeting if all of the following requirements are met:

1. The open public meeting complies with the guidelines for “business meetings”, found in the “Miscellaneous Venues” guidance here, as incorporated into the Proclamation 20-25 et seq., Stay Safe – Stay Healthy - Rollback of County-By-County Phased Reopening Responding to a COVID-19 Outbreak Surge;

2. Any person wishing to attend in person a public meeting with an in-person component must be able to do so at a physical location meeting the requirements herein, either in a primary meeting location or an overflow physical location that provides the ability for all persons attending the meeting to hear each other at the same time; and

3. If at any time during a public meeting the in-person component cannot comply with each of the requirements herein, the public meeting (to include the telephonic/remote access portions) must be recessed until compliance is restored or if compliance cannot be restored then adjourned, continued, or otherwise terminated; and

4. The public agency holding an in-person public meeting shall accommodate, to the extent practicable, those wishing to participate in and/or attend the public meeting (to include the press) by allowing persons to attend the meeting by listening and speaking through operable telecommunications devices (examples include using an attendee’s cell phone with service to connect to a conference calling service, or allowing persons to call in using an attendee’s cell phone with service);…

The Miscellaneous Venues guidance was updated February 1 to reflect the new phasing approach.  Business meetings are prohibited in Phase 1 regions but allowed in Phase 2, consistent with the requirements set forth in the guidance — meetings allowed up to 25% capacity or 200 people, whichever is fewer (excluding staff), with several safety measures that must be met. 

The Roadmap to Recovery and Proclamation 20-25.12

While the previous Stay Safe - Stay Healthy plan (the last version can be found 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 and currently contains only 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. 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, with every region starting in Phase 1. On January 21, the state launched a new Roadmap to Recovery Dashboard that will be used for the DOH evaluation and reporting. Based on an update to the Roadmap to Recovery announced by the governor on January 28, a region must meet three of four metrics to move from Phase 1 to Phase 2 (previously a region must have met all four metrics) and continue to meet three of four metrics to remain in Phase 2. Two regions (Puget Sound and West) moved to Phase 2 on Monday, February 1. The updated Roadmap to Recovery also changes the timing of the DOH evaluation and potential changing of phases from weekly to every two weeks.

This chart in the Roadmap lists broad categories of activities allowed in Phases 1 and 2, although more specific guidance is available for many activities on the governor’s COVID-19 Reopening Guidance for Business and Workers page.

How Does the Roadmap to Recovery Affect Local Governments?

The latest Roadmap to Recovery and updated COVID-19 Reopening Guidance for Business and Workers provide guidance and benchmarks for certain local government activities; however, how a local government chooses to conduct their daily operations, within CDC and other recommended safety parameters, remain largely within their discretion. The governor recognizes local control and the need for local governments to develop their own appropriate operational plans.

On June 19, Governor Inslee issued this memo to local governments that encourages them to use the Safe Start Reopening Guide for State Agencies in developing their own safe start plans. The governor continues to recommend that local governments use this guide in developing their plans (Version 5, linked above, is the most recent).

The state guidance covers:

  • Prioritizing and opening services (with an emphasis on teleworking);
  • Safely preparing facilities;
  • Screening; and
  • Use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and safety equipment.

For state agencies, the guidelines for activities described in the Roadmap to Recovery and updated COVID-19 Reopening Guidance for Business and Workers are intended to act as minimum standards for operations. On p. 6, the guidance states:

The phases in the governor’s Healthy Washington - Roadmap to Recovery plan act as a minimum standard for how businesses, counties, and regions can reopen.

For example, continued telework is strongly encouraged and offices should remain closed for those government agency activities that would fit within the Professional Services category. For those services that cannot be provided remotely, the plan sets a limit of 25% capacity. Similarly, the governor’s office recommends applying these benchmarks for local government operations.

In the previous phased re-opening plans, “customer-facing government services” were not allowed to resume until Phase 3. Our understanding from talking with the governor’s office is that this prohibition was part of the former phasing plan and is no longer applicable. Again, local governments will need to make their own plans, prioritizing and resuming services as safely as possible, using current statewide capacity and safety guidance, as applicable.

Other Proclamation Updates Relevant to Local Governments

On January 19 the governor extended dozens of proclamations until the termination of the emergency, or until rescinded. Some proclamations affecting local governments include 20-64.5 and 20-23.14

  • Proclamation 20-64.5 extends existing public records provisions for contact tracing for the duration of the emergency or until rescinded, whichever comes first.
  • Proclamation 20-23.14 extends certain utility waivers and prohibitions for the duration of the emergency or until rescinded, whichever comes first. The utility shutoff/late fee prohibitions are in effect until the termination of the COVID-19 emergency or April 30, 2021, whichever comes first.

The governor’s website contains a full list of all updated proclamations.

Conclusion

The actions of the legislature and governor extending the emergency proclamations until the termination of the emergency will provide more certainty going forward, without having to wonder whether any given proclamation will be extended or renewed after the rolling expiration dates. Local governments should be using the Roadmap for Recovery and related activity-specific guidance in developing their own operational plans. Meetings subject to the OPMA continue to be guided by the specific limitations set forth in Proclamation 20-28.15.

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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