Whitman County will be among three counties that will move back to more strict coronavirus restrictions at the end of the week because of rising cases and hospitalizations, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced Monday.

Starting Friday, Whitman, Cowlitz and Pierce counties will roll back to Phase 2 of the state's economic reopening plan, which means decreasing capacity for indoor dining at restaurants, retail stores and gyms from 50 percent to 25 percent.

Limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings are also reduced, though some sporting activities, including at the professional and college levels, can continue to operate under the higher Phase 3 limits if they have an approved plan.

“It seems like we took one step forward only to take two steps back,” Pullman Chamber of Commerce Director Marie Dymkoski told the Moscow-Pullman Daily News.

Dymkoski said local businesses have done a good job of following protocols to keep people safe, yet they are going to be hit the hardest by this return to Phase 2.

She said some are in a difficult situation because they hired new staff members when Whitman County moved to Phase 3 and now it is unclear if they can keep those new hires.

Additionally, Pullman businesses will enter the normally slower time of year when the local college students leave for the summer, she said.

Up until this week, all of Washington’s 39 counties had been in Phase 3. Initially, to stay in Phase 3, counties had to meet two metrics related to new cases and new hospitalizations.

But Inslee changed the criteria on Friday, saying that counties would only be moved back a phase if they failed two of the metrics. Previously they could be moved backward by failing to meet one.

Larger counties must have less than 200 new cases per 100,000 people over a two-week period and fewer than five new COVID-19 hospitalizations per 100,000 people over a one-week period.

Seventeen smaller counties — Klickitat, Asotin, Pacific, Adams, San Juan, Pend Oreille, Skamania, Lincoln, Ferry, Wahkiakum, Columbia, Kittitas, Stevens, Douglas, Okanogan, Jefferson and Garfield — must have fewer than 30 cases over a two-week period and fewer than three new COVID-19 hospitalizations over a one-week period.

The data evaluating the counties was based on hospitalizations between March 24 and March 30 and case counts between March 20 and April 2. Once a county moves down a phase, it must meet both metrics in order to move up to the next phase. The next evaluation of counties will happen on May 3.

Nearly 70 state business organizations last Friday urged Inslee, a Democrat, to delay for three weeks any decision to return any counties to the more restrictive standards. The groups wrote in a letter that a rollback “would punish struggling businesses for personal behavior while doing little to stop the spread of COVID.”

They said that any selective rollback would be counterproductive, noting that people in Phase 2 counties will travel to Phase 3 counties. The focus should be on increasing the vaccination rate, they said.

“Give us three weeks, and together, we can make a large leap forward in increasing vaccinations and stamping out this virus,” said the letter signed by groups including the Association of Washington Business, the Washington Hospitality Association and numerous state chambers of commerce.

* New reports of COVID-19 infections were slight Monday through the eight-county circulation area of the Lewiston Tribune, except in Whitman County where 33 new positive tests were reported.

Asotin and Garfield counties had no new infections reported over the weekend and both will remain in Washington’s Phase 3 for COVID-19 recovery.

Public Health – Idaho North Central District reported 18 new infections, including 12 in Latah County and six in Nez Perce County. No new cases were added to Idaho, Clearwater or Lewis counties and no new deaths occurred because of the virus.

* Idaho Gov. Brad Little will host a statewide AARP telephone town hall at 11 a.m. PST Tuesday. The hourlong conversation can be joined by dialing toll-free 866-767-0627 or by registering in advance by visiting vekeo.com/aarpidaho/.

* The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare will hold a media briefing about COVID-19 at 3:30 PST Tuesday. Agency officials will offer brief remarks and then take questions from the media. The general public can join the briefing in listen/watch-only mode at bit.ly/32af1pq.