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Restaurants on the San Juan Islands Can Now Reopen Dining Rooms

But that doesn’t mean they will

A bird’s eye view of the San Juan Islands in Washington State
San Juan County has entered phase two of the state’s reopening plan.

On Monday, Gov. Jay Inslee announced that seven more Washington counties have advanced to phase two of the state’s reopening plan during the COVID-19 pandemic, including San Juan County. That means restaurants at popular vacation destinations such as Orcas, Lopez, San Juan, and Guemes are allowed to reopen dining rooms at 50 percent capacity, with several more restrictions in place to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Those include having single-use menus, establishing six feet of social distancing between staff and customers, and instituting a limit of one employee tending to a table at a time. (After initially making logging customer info a requirement, that is now optional.)

But restaurants and cafes in that area are in no hurry. All the spots Eater contacted out on the San Juan Islands — including the ten places on this guide — are either still temporarily closed or say they are planning on sticking with takeout services for now.

“We are in wait and see mode,” says Kai Gagnon, the general manager of Roses Bakery Cafe, a popular breakfast destination in Orcas that has been around for nearly 30 years, which is currently open for takeout Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. “It doesn’t make much economic sense to open [the dining room] at half capacity, but there are also concerns about safety. We are in a very vulnerable community, with only one clinic. If there’s an outbreak [of COVID-19] here, it would be a disaster.”

Inslee also announced Monday that two more Washington counties can apply for a variance to his stay-at-home order and move to phase two, including Walla Walla, home to many of the state’s biggest wineries. Like restaurants, wine taprooms can open at half capacity in phase two as long as food is served and they adhere to every other public health guideline. This follows the original plan to allow some counties to reopen sooner than others, depending on coronavirus data.

But most of Washington remains in phase one and there’s still no set date for Seattle to enter phase two, which is unlikely to happen on June 1, when Inslee’s stay-at-home order is set to expire. To apply for a variance, counties must have an average of less than 10 new cases per 100,000 residents over a 14-day period, and King County is still way above that level. It’s possible several of the larger counties in the state still have a long way to go before entering the next phase.

Even when King County eventually gets there, restaurants in Seattle will probably be as cautious as their counterparts on San Juan, which is about three hours away by car and ferry. The majority of the city’s chefs and restaurateurs have said that reopening at 50 percent capacity is simply not worth the public health risk, nor is it economically viable.