In an October 6 press conference, Gov. Jay Inslee announced that Washington will roll back certain restrictions in the state’s reopening plan and introduce a few new allowances that impact restaurants and bars in Seattle. People from different households can now sit together indoors, table limitations will increase from five to six, and the cutoff for booze will be 11 p.m. instead of 10 p.m. for counties in phase two or three of the “Safe Start” guidelines.
Since the summer, Seattle has been paused in phase two, which limits indoor and outdoor seating to 50 percent. Though that capacity limit will not change, the tinkering of other restrictions may help some places generate additional revenue as colder seasons begin and outdoor seating becomes more challenging. In essence, the loosened rules harken back to the original phase two rollout in June, before additional additional restrictions were instituted weeks later.
Inslee said he has seen good compliance on the mask mandates across the state, which gave him confidence to make the decisions to open up some more business activities with minimal risk. However, health authorities would continue to monitor the situation, and reimposing restrictions is still possible if there are additional spikes of the disease in certain counties. To date, there have been more than 90,000 COVID-19 cases in Washington (23,168 in King County), along with 2,254 deaths (790 in King County).
One reporter pressed Inlee on the reasoning behind allowing one additional seat at a table for indoor dining, given that adults who tested positive for COVID-19 cases were approximately twice as likely to have reported dining at a restaurant in the 14 days before becoming ill than others, per a CDC study. The governor said that the protocol to limit tables to five guests (instead of six) simply was ineffective. “We discovered that restaurants were not really abiding by this,” he said, adding that the restriction wasn’t “reducing transmissions one way or the other.”
Inslee also defended the decision to make the cutoff for booze sales 11 p.m. instead of 10 p.m., saying he’s confident that other preventative protocols (such as increased use of masks) would be effective in reducing risk, but that he’d continue to adjust the rules, if necessary. In previous announcements, Inslee contended that gatherings centered around drinking were ripe for lax social distancing.
When asked to elaborate on the rollbacks, Inslee’s communications director Mike Faulk tells Eater Seattle that enforcement was a challenge for the protocols that were lifted, particularly when it came to restricting tables inside to people from the same household. “It’s hard to prove people aren’t members of the same household without investing more resources in it than it is worth, given how limited resources are to fight COVID on its many fronts,” he says.
Faulk also mentioned that changing the alcohol sales cutoff from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. was a compromise based on feedback from people in the industry, since some wanted to push back the cutoff to 2 a.m. (Seattle restaurants and bars recently circulated a letter about it).
“We’re hopeful this is going to allow restaurants to boost business in a safe way,” the governor said of the new guidelines, which go into effect immediately.
UPDATED, October 6, 2020, 5:37 p.m.: This piece was updated with additional context from Gov. Inslee’s spokesman Mike Faulk.