Safe Start Washington – A Brief Guide for Businesses

For the past few months, domestic economy has come to a halt due to wide-sweeping shutdowns and shelter-in-place orders across the United States, including Governor Inslee’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy order issued March 23, 2020. The good news is that the mandatory social distancing and prohibitions have been effective in flattening the curve and preventing overloading of the healthcare system in Washington State. Based on scientific and epidemiological data, the State is ready for a cautious and measured reopening, which is a welcome news to businesses and individuals alike.

On May 4, 2020, Governor Inslee signed Proclamation 20-25.3, which extended the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order to May 31 and outlined a phased approach to reopening Washington’s economy. The Safe Start Washington plan, developed and issued by the Office of the Governor in collaboration with the Washington State Department of Health, provides a detailed guidance for individuals and employers as businesses start reopening in the coming months.

Reopening in Four Phases

The Safe Start plan has four phases for reopening, outlined in this chart. Timing of each phase will be determined by continued re-evaluation of four indicators that are enumerated in the first part of the Safe Start document, including health care system readiness and testing capacity and availability. Certain basic requirements for all individuals and employers, such as physical distancing and regular disinfecting, will remain in place through all four phases. In addition, businesses must adhere to industry-specific guidance and safety criteria.

Phase 1, which began on May 5, 2020, allows, in addition to essential businesses that were open during the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order, the following businesses to reopen:

  • Construction (existing construction that meet industry-specific criteria)
  • Landscaping
  • Automobile sales
  • Car washes 
  • Retail (curb-side pick-up only) 
  • Pet walkers

Phase 2, which will begin no earlier than June 1, 2020, allows the reopening of the following:

  • Remaining manufacturing
  • Additional construction phases
  • In-home/domestic services (nannies, housecleaning, etc.)
  • Retail (in-store purchases allowed with restrictions)
  • Real estate
  • Professional services and office-based businesses (although telework remains strongly encouraged)
  • Hair and nail salons/barbers
  • Pet grooming
  • Restaurants/taverns at <50% capacity with table size no larger than 5 and no bar-area seating

Phase 3, which will start at least three weeks after the start of Phase 2, adds the following:

  • Restaurants/taverns at <75% capacity with table size no larger than 10
  • Bar areas in restaurant/taverns at <25% capacity
  • Movie theaters at <50% capacity
  • Customer-facing government services (telework remains strongly encouraged)
  • Libraries
  • Museums
  • All other business activities not yet listed except for nightclubs and event with greater than 50 people

Phase 4, which will start at least three weeks after the start of Phase 3, adds the following:

  • Nightclubs
  • Concert venues
  • Large sporting events
  • Resume unrestricted staffing of worksites, but continue to practice physical distancing and good hygiene

The plan provides for counties with less population density to apply for a variance to move to Phase 2 before the rest of the state. As of May 11, 2020, eight Washington counties (Stevens, Wahkiakum, Skamania, Ferry, Pend Oreille, Columbia, Garfield, and Lincoln) have been cleared for Phase 2 based on scientific data supporting lifting of certain restrictions. Businesses and individuals in other smaller counties should check with the county to determine whether a variance has been issued.

Additional Resources

The Governor’s website dedicated to providing information regarding COVID-19 reopening guidance for businesses and workers also provides industry-specific requirements that need to be met in addition to general requirements. Employers and employees should take time to review the guidelines and additional resources from the State,  the CDC and the U.S. government. In addition, businesses can submit inquiries around financial help, return to work, or other business assistance during the COVID-19 outbreak to the Washington State Business Response Center using this form. Boston Consulting Group, at the request of Challenge Seattle and the Washington Roundtable, has developed a business checklist, which is a great resource for businesses as they start planning for reopening.

While we can celebrate the prospective reopening of businesses and easing of certain restrictions, we should all continue to protect ourselves and others by adhering to the guidelines and practicing social distancing and other protective measures as much as possible for the immediate future.

If you have any questions regarding the Safe Start Washington plan, please reach out to any of our Business Law attorneys, or email us at