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Washington State Reopening: Where Things Stand as of June 30, 2021


July 1, 2021  by  Jill Dvorkin
Category:  COVID-19

Washington State Reopening: Where Things Stand as of June 30, 2021

Editor’s note: Soon after this article was originally published, Governor Inslee issued two new proclamations:

  • Proclamation 20-25.14 (renamed “Washington Ready” from “Healthy Washington – Roadmap to Recovery”) summarizing the current facial covering and public health requirements for employers, employees, businesses, and customers, and reiterating that local entities and employers may voluntarily impose stricter requirements (and may not be penalized for doing so).
  • Proclamation 20-23.16 extending the utility shutoff moratorium through September 30. This will be the final extension; the state Department of Commerce has also assembled resources for utility customers behind on their payments.

We have updated this post with the new information.


Governor Jay Inslee announced the details of the state’s reopening plan in a press release issued on  June 29. As anticipated, businesses and agencies may now fully reopen, with capacity limits and physical distancing requirements eliminated (with very minor exceptions) and the rules surrounding masks modified. Workplace safety guidance has been updated, and industry-specific guidance has been largely rescinded. The governor also released the details of the eviction moratorium “bridge” that goes into effect July 1.

This blog will briefly touch on the details of each of these changes.

Workplace Guidance Updated

All employers (including local governments) are required to follow the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) revised Requirements and Guidance for Preventing COVID-19 (Publication F414-164-000), effective June 30.

Masks continue to be required for unvaccinated workers in indoor settings, and the regulations impose a vaccination verification requirement if the employer plans to allow vaccinated employees to go without a mask indoors. The employer must also document how it has verified vaccination status, and the guidance lists acceptable types of verification. (MRSC advises that elected officials and volunteers of an agency be treated as employees for purposes of this vaccination verification requirement.)

The L&I rules recommend but do not require physical distancing of unvaccinated employees. Additionally, a workplace can continue to require masks and additional protective measures for all employees.

While this guidance is at the state level, local health departments may also have more stringent requirements and should be consulted.

Industries where masks continue to be required for all employees are:

  • Health care (long-term care, doctor’s offices, hospitals),
  • Public transportation (aircraft, trains, buses, road vehicles — in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention public transportation order),
  • K-12 schools, childcare facilities, and day camps in locations where children are present or expected to be present,
  • Correctional facilities, and
  • Homeless shelters.

All other industry-specific guidance has largely been rescinded. This includes a number of documents that previously applied to local governments, such as guidance on Professional Services, Public Transportation, Libraries, and other areas.

While the public health emergency remains in place at the local, state, or federal level, employers must accommodate any employee’s voluntary use of personal protective equipment (with limited exceptions related to workplace safety and operations) — see Laws of 2021, ch. 146 (SSB5254). In other words, if a fully vaccinated employee wants to continue voluntarily wearing a face mask for the duration of the declared emergency, even if it is no longer required by the state or the employer, the employer generally must let them. This remains true even if a local jurisdiction has terminated its own emergency declaration, so long as the governor’s statewide emergency declaration or a presidential emergency declaration is still in effect.

Changes to Capacity Limits and Physical Distancing

All industry sectors previously covered by guidance in the Healthy Washington – Roadmap to Recovery or the newly renamed Washington Ready Plan (Proclamation 20-25.14) may return to usual capacity, with limited exceptions for large indoor events, which includes any event with more than 10,000 simultaneous participants in an indoor, enclosed space. From the Healthy Washington - Roadmap to Recovery plan:

Large indoor events are defined as any event with more than 10,000 simultaneous participants located in an indoors enclosed space. Large indoor events are restricted to 75% capacity, unless vaccination verification is occurring. If vaccination verification is occurring prior to entry, and the venue requires all attendees be vaccinated, there are no capacity restrictions. However, we will not allow vaccinated sections as a way to go above 75% capacity unless all attendees are vaccinated. No physical distancing requirements apply and attendees must follow the current masking requirements.

The return to usual capacity is also true for the in-person component of public meetings subject to the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) — see more details about public meetings below. Physical distancing requirements have also been eliminated.

Mask Order Updated

On June 29, the Washington State Department of Health updated its mask order in Secretary of Health Order 20-03.3. A key feature of the revised order is that masks are no longer required outdoors for vaccinated or unvaccinated individuals, although masks are encouraged for unvaccinated individuals in crowded outdoor settings. Mask requirements have also been eased for many indoor and outdoor sporting activities. Masks continue to be required for unvaccinated individuals in public indoor settings.

Verification of vaccination status for purposes of compliance with the mask order is recommended (but not required) for any member of the public attending large indoor or outdoor events. In contrast (and as described above), verification of an employee’s vaccination status is required pursuant to the L&I workplace rules if an employer wishes to allow vaccinated employees to go without a mask. Of course, a local government or public venue could choose to require verification of vaccination status for members of the public, too.

Public Meetings

Proclamation 20-28.15 remains in effect for public meetings subject to the OPMA, but capacity limits, physical distancing, and most other restrictions related to the in-person component of public meetings have been lifted.

Proclamation 20-28.15 has been in place since January 2021 and extends the substantive provisions contained in Proclamation 20-28.14. Those provisions require that all public meetings be held remotely, with the option of also holding an in-person component to a public meeting if certain conditions are met. One of those conditions is that “(t)he open public meeting complies with the guidelines for ‘business meetings’, found in the “Miscellaneous Venues’ guidance…as incorporated into the Proclamation 20-25 et seq.”

On June 30, the governor substantially amended the Miscellaneous Venues guidance to remove nearly all capacity and operational restrictions that had previously been in that guidance document, consistent with the easing of restrictions for most other industries and activities. The newly revised Miscellaneous Venues guidance now only applies to venues for public meetings and provides in its entirety:

As of June 30, 2021, the following apply to governing bodies of public agencies opting to host in-person public meetings under the Open Public Meetings Act, as permitted under Emergency Proclamation 20-28, et seq.:

  • No restrictions on capacity.
  • No physical distancing requirements.
  • Follow current applicable face covering requirements as outlined in: Proclamation 20-25, et seq., Secretary of Health Order 20-03.2, and LNI Publication F414-179.

We confirmed with the governor’s office that there will be no requirement to verify vaccination status for in-person attendees to determine compliance with the mask order. However, local governments can opt to do this at their discretion, keeping in mind that any employees and elected officials in attendance would be subject to the L&I guidance.

In summary, as of June 30, 2021, the new requirements for public meetings are as follows:

Type of Public Meeting Required Optional
Virtual/Remote Yes. Subject to conditions in Proclamation 20-28.14, at p. 3, including that there be telephonic access, at minimum, and all attendees can “hear each other at the same time.” No.
In-Person No. Yes. Subject to conditions in Proclamation 20-28.14 at pp. 3 and 4, including that any person who wishes to attend in person be able to do so, either in meeting room or overflow area. No capacity limits or physical distancing requirements. Masks required for unvaccinated attendees, however no verification requirement.

State Eviction Moratorium “Bridge” Effective July 1

On June 29, the governor issued Proclamation 21-09, intended to bridge the operational gap between the eviction moratorium (Proclamation 20-19, et seq., which expired at 11:59 PM on June 30), and the protections and programs subsequently enacted by the state legislature during the last session.

This order provides, among other things, that: 

  • Landlords and tenants avail themselves of rental assistance and eviction resolution pilot programs pursuant to E2SSB 5160 to resolve any COVID-related past due rent (February 29, 2020, through July 31, 2021); 
  • Tenants take steps to pay rent or avail themselves of rental assistance in order to pay future rent (beginning August 1, 2021, throughout the effective dates of this order);
  • For any tenant who is or becomes in arrears, landlords offer a reasonable repayment plan to tenants per E2SSB 5160; and
  • Tenants respond to notice of funding and other available programs within the timeframes established by E2SSB 5160.

In addition, although late fees are prohibited, rent increases are permitted as provided under state law (RCW 59.18.140). Note that the non-traditional and other transient housing previously covered by the eviction moratorium are not included in this new order.

Utility Shutoff Prohibition Extended Through September 30

The utility shutoff and late fee prohibitions have been extended through 11:59 PM on September 30, 2021 (Proclamation 20-23.16). This will be the final extension and will expire at the same time as the eviction moratorium "bridge." The federal government has approved funding to provide relief to utilities and utility customers. For more information, see New Federal Funding for Rent and Utility Assistance and American Rescue Plan Provides More Relief to Local Governments. The state Department of Commerce has also assembled resources for utility customers behind on their payments.

Conclusion

Today’s reopening marks a significant and celebratory milestone in the state’s battle against COVID-19 and its impacts on the economy and our daily lives. The disease nevertheless remains a public health threat and agencies will need to continually assess what measures are necessary to ensure our communities stay safe. We will continue to update our resources to reflect current guidance and recommendations.


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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