- Associated Press - Friday, May 15, 2020

SEATTLE (AP) - Whitman County in Eastern Washington has been given the OK to take a faster path to reopening businesses, including restaurants, under Gov. Jay Inslee’s coronavirus recovery plan.

Washington State Secretary of Health John Wiesman approved the county’s application Friday, making it the ninth county in the state to receive approval to move into phase two of the four-phase reopening process.

Those counties can allow restaurants to open at 50% of capacity. Hair and nail salons, tattoo and makeup artists, and stores also can start reopening with additional protections in place.

Counties applying for a quicker reopening must currently have a population of less than 75,000 and no new cases of COVID-19 in the last three weeks, among other stipulations, in order to be approved.

The other eight counties of the 39 in Washington that can begin the second phase include: Columbia, Ferry, Garfield, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Skamania, Stevens and Wahkiakum.

Inslee and health officials have said other counties may enter phase two on June 1, depending on public-health COVID-19 data.

Reopening businesses must comply with health and safety requirements outlined in their industry’s guidance, officials said.

More than 17,950 people in Washington state have tested positive for the coronavirus and at least 992 have died. The virus causes mild to moderate symptoms in most patients, and the vast majority recover. But it is highly contagious and can cause severe illness and death in some patients, particularly the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.

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