Inslee issues more reopening rollbacks
— Created July 29, 2020 by Kathy Reed
By Kathy Reed
Island County is once again among those Phase III counties taking steps back, rather than forward, in Gov. Jay Inslee’s Safe Start plan to reopen the economy in the midst of COVID-19.
One week after announcing indoor gatherings must not exceed 10 people, Inslee has issued further rollbacks, set to take effect over the next couple of weeks.
Many of the changes affect restaurants. Beginning today (July 30), restaurants must stop alcohol service at 10 p.m.; must close all game areas such as pool tables, darts and video games; must reduce occupancy to 50 percent and limit table size to five guests; indoor dining at tables is limited to members of the same household. In addition, indoor entertainment centers, such as mini golf, bowling alleys, arcades and card rooms are to remain closed until Phase IV. Movie theaters may operate at 25 percent capacity. Outdoor recreation with up to 50 participants is allowed, but gyms and fitness centers may once again only operate at 25 percent capacity and fitness classes may have no more than 10 people. (In Phase III counties.)
Beginning Aug. 10, (pushed back from Aug. 6) indoor occupancy for weddings and funerals must not exceed 20 percent or 30 people, whichever is less, but only if six feet of distance can be achieved between households. Only ceremonies will be permitted, receptions will be prohibited. Outdoor ceremonies in Phase III counties can allow up to 50 people if social distancing can be maintained and again, receptions will not be permitted.
Inslee said the restrictions are necessary to once again flatten the curve of the still-increasing number of COVID-19 infections.
“We had tremendous success in flattening the curve, but we knew when we began this reopening process we would have to accept and make changes as the facts dictated,” Inslee said in a press briefing last week. “At the moment, the only effective tool against this pandemic is to change some of our practices.”
In Island County, the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 has risen to 231 (as of Monday evening) – up 14 from last week. County commissioners say following new guidelines now will hopefully help prevent further rollbacks in the near future, but balancing public health and economic health in this unprecedented time is possible.
“This is a tough time for our small businesses,” said Commissioner Helen Price Johnson. “It is complicated because the public health must be protected for our economy to recover. These businesses need us to spend our money locally. Everyone can do their part by supporting our local establishments while wearing masks, washing hands, and staying away from big groups.”
“I believe that we can work together to protect the health and economic well-being of our community,” said Commissioner Janet St. Clair. “While these modifications to Phase III may have a small and/or short term impact, being cautious today protects us from more catastrophic restrictions if the virus gets worse in the future. We have been successful in Island County in keeping our rates relatively low and I hope we can continue that effort. I will also continue our efforts to support the impact to small businesses through actions such as our sharing of CARES funding to support economic recovery.”
Island County Commissioner Jill Johnson said the spread of the virus is concerning, but residents can do a lot to keep the spread of the virus low.
“There are simple steps,” she said. “If you are high risk, stay at home and operate as if the ‘Stay Home, Stay Healthy’ order is still in effect. Do not travel. Just don’t do it. Stay as close to home as possible, especially avoid traveling to known high risk areas. Do not host friends or family from out of town, especially if they are coming from high-exposure counties. Most of our new cases have involved family members who have brought this from other places and exposed their family members here.
“We need to behave like we are in Phase I and use our Phase III freedoms responsibly, or we can get shut down,” Johnson continued. “And I am not sure our businesses can survive another round of shutdowns. It makes me sick to my stomach just thinking about it.”
Despite tougher restrictions being put back in place, many restaurants have worked to perfect their takeout and curbside/delivery options for customers. One Oak Harbor restaurant owner said they will simply continue to operate as they have since the pandemic started.
“In order for us to maintain the six-foot separation, we were already operating at less than 50 percent seating capacity, so there’s no change there,” said Tim Ryan. He and his wife, Sonna, own the BBQ Joint.
“Customers and staff are wearing masks except when seated and eating,” he continued. “We do have a loyal following and continue to have a strong take out and curbside pickup business. We’re taking it one day at a time and hope for no more restrictions.”
Those businesses that are eligible to apply for CARES grant funding can check the Island County website at islandcountywa.gov for more information on seeking that assistance. If the federal government passes another relief package, it is possible there could be more help ahead for local businesses.
The governor also extended the moratorium on evictions until October 15 and State Secretary of Health John Wiesman announced stronger mandatory masking requirements, effective last Saturday. Masks are now required in all shared spaces, such as hallways, elevators, etc.
“It’s pretty much any time you’re outside of your house, where you’re likely to come in contact with folks, that we really want people masking up,” he said. “The science is showing that’s the thing we need to do and we’re really encouraged by what we’re seeing in communities that are masking up. We know that it works and we know Washingtonians want to do what works, so that’s what we’re looking forward to.”
While the new rollbacks will be painful for many businesses, the governor said they are necessary.
“We’re taking some relatively modest steps…in hopes to avoid big, big shutdowns in the coming weeks and months,” Inslee said. “We have to get down the infection rate of this pandemic if we’re to have any hope of restoring the kind of economy that we need.