Today, Governor Jay Inslee made an announcement that detailed the state’s most aggressive plan yet to attempt to limit the COVID-19 outbreak. There’s now a restriction on all events in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties of more than 250 people, effective through the end of March. In addition, Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health for Seattle and King County, said he also would be canceling some public gatherings of fewer than 250 people as well, unless event organizers took certain steps to mitigate transmission of the virus, including providing hand-sanitizing materials, screening employees for symptoms daily, and enabling people to be 6 feet apart from each other.
This order describes an “event” as a gathering for business, social, or recreational activities including, but not limited to, community, civic, public, leisure, or sporting events; parades; concerts; festivals; conventions; fundraisers; and similar activities. The order does not apply to family events or retail at this time, said King County executive Dow Constantine. Guidelines for retail and services are still forthcoming, according to the announcement.
The current restrictions are mostly targeted at large sporting events and concerts, but will have an impact on local restaurants as well, especially those around CenturyLink Field and T-Mobile Park. The XFL’s Seattle Dragons will play to an empty stadium this Sunday, and the upcoming Mariners’ first regular season games originally scheduled to take place later this month will now no longer be in Seattle.
Chef Josh Henderson, who owns the sports bar Quality Athletics in Pioneer Square, says he’s already closed for lunch service and is considering taking more drastic steps, including ramping up online ordering, delivery, and takeout options.
Even before this announcement, Henderson has seen a 50 to 70 percent drop in sales in recent weeks, despite a few well-attended events, such as the Strokes concert at WaMu and Sounders games. He says his biggest concern right now is taking care of employees, as things pull back. “As a business, I’m not really worried about the landlord kicking me out any time soon, but many employees may not be able to afford food if they can’t get a regular paycheck,” he says.
Farshid Varamini, who owns the food truck The People’s Burger, just opened a bar called Gantry Public House in the vicinity of the Stadium earlier this month, but now has to shift his plans for both his mobile operation and the new brewpub. “I have sent an email to my landlord, and started the conversation with employees about layoffs,” he says. “We have already had a number of events and catering events cancel in the past two weeks, and today’s decision was a huge blow. At this time, I don’t see any option but to close.”
Meanwhile, popular Capitol Hill burger restaurant Two Doors Down had been planning to open a second location in Pioneer Square soon. But co-owner Erin Nestor has reassessed things recently and has decided to postpone the opening indefinitely (her decision came Monday, before this recent announcement from the governor). “At the core, I don’t want to promise new employees financial security when things are so up in the air,” she says.