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Will Seattle Reinstitute Dining Restrictions Soon?

Statements from Washington state’s health officials, along with a recent COVID-19 spike, seem to signal that a rollback is on the way if things don’t improve quickly

Yellow caution tape blocks of an alley near Pike Place Market with outdoor seating
If COVID transmission doesn’t improve, Seattle restaurants may have to face more restrictions after months of slowly reopening.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Washington State Department of Health held a press conference that sounded dire warnings about COVID-19 spread. According to officials, there’s been an alarming spike over the past two weeks, leading to record cases in the state and an increase in hospitalizations. No new policies were announced, nor were restrictions reinstated for restaurants, however the message was clear: If COVID-19 metrics don’t improve, more drastic steps will be needed.

“Ideally, we should all stop socializing for the next several weeks,” said Dr. Kathy Lofy, Chief Science Officer at the Department of Health. “But if you need to socialize, limit it to no more than five people outside of your household per week.” Lofy went on to say that this would apply to the upcoming holidays, and urged people to consider alternative plans to Thanksgiving gatherings.

As for the dining scene, again, no specific restrictions reapplied, but University of Washington epidemiologist Dr. John Lynch said, “We may need to be stepping away from things like restaurants and bars or other congregate areas.”

The Tuesday press conference sent warnings that there needs to be better compliance with COVID-19 precautions. In King County alone, there have been 400 cases a day and hospitalizations are up 30 percent week over week, and the county’s lead health officer, Dr. Jeffrey Duchin, said that the burden on the health system over the coming days would determine whether more direct restrictions are needed. “If we see a trend going in the direction that’s stressing our hospitals, we’ll need to act quickly,” said Dr. Duchin.

Other cities, like San Francisco, recently rolled back capacity at restaurants due to COVID-19 spikes. Seattle and the state as a whole looks to be on the same trajectory, even if policies haven’t changed right now. The city still allows indoor and outdoor seating at 50 percent capacity, and bars are open for dine-in as well, if they offer a full food menu.

Gov. Jay Inslee even loosened some restrictions a month ago, extending alcohol sales by an hour and allowing people from different households to sit at the same table inside. But a recent report from the Washington State Department of Health noted that out of all non-health care settings where people congregate, food service is the category that has experienced the most outbreaks over the course of the pandemic. And, as has been well documented, indoor dining in areas where there is high community transmission carries significant risk, particularly to restaurant workers.

“At this time, we all need to cut back on non-essential activities,” Dr. Duchin said. “Do things safer, smaller, and smarter.”