On Friday afternoon, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee revealed more details about the phased reopening of the economy, which includes extending the state’s stay-at-home order until May 31 to help slow the spread of COVID-19. And it appears that restaurants will not open before that date.
Inslee said that there would be four phases, separated by at least three weeks each. Phase one would include low-contact businesses like car washes, curbside pickup for retail, and pet walkers — but that wouldn’t fully ramp up until mid-May, Insee said. In phase two, which might be early June via this timeline (due to the three-week cushion between phases), restaurants could reopen at 50 percent capacity, with a table size limited to no more than five diners. Bars would remain closed for dine-in services.
In phase three, restaurants would move to 75 percent capacity and bars could have 25 percent capacity. Phase four will resume gatherings of more than 50, and bars, restaurants, and entertainment venues would be able to return to full capacity. All phases would require strict social distancing measures, and a series of additional regulations to protect workers and customers.
Smaller counties that haven’t been as hard hit by COVID-19 can apply to the Washington Department of Health to possibly enter different phases earlier than stated, but King County was not on the list under consideration for such a variance. The move to different phases requires an increased capacity for testing and contact tracing, as well as positive signs in the state’s COVID-19 risk assessment— and Inslee emphasized that there are no guarantees. “I’d like to tell you that we can all make reservations on June 1, but I cannot,” says Inslee.
There were no details given on specific safety protocols for restaurants, such as providing employees with PPE and extra sanitization measures, but Inslee noted that he has been working with each industry to come up with a set of guidelines. When asked whether it was economically realistic to expect restaurants to successfully adapt to a 50 percent capacity limitation, Inslee said, “We hope that they will be successful, and we will watch the situation.”
The move to extend the stay-at-home order was expected, since Inslee officially announced Wednesday that many restrictions would remain in place past the original May 4 deadline. Inslee has started reopening several aspects of the economy, first by allowing some residential construction previously underway to immediately resume with precautions, then by letting some of the state’s outdoor recreational activities (like fishing and golf) start up again May 5. Certain elective medical procedures will also resume soon.
Some states in the Midwest and South have taken a faster — and controversial — approach to reopening the economy, especially in Georgia, which was among the first to let restaurants serve dine-in customers again. That plan received pushback from many chefs and owners, concerned about the safety and welfare of their workers. Even in places where dining rooms are allowed to open, restaurants must adhere to strict health and social distancing guidelines, reducing dining rooms to 50 or even 25 percent capacity. For many, reopening under such conditions just isn’t worth the risk.