Little by little, the Seattle area creeps closer to entering the next phase of Washington’s reopening plan, when restaurants can open at 50 percent capacity. On Thursday, Kitsap officially became the 25th county in the state to move to phase two of Gov. Jay Inslee’s reopening plan. That means Bainbridge Island restaurants such as Hitchcock, Restaurant Marche, and the new modern Vietnamese spot Ba Sa are eligible to open their dining rooms, all just a short ferry ride from Seattle.
In the four-phased plan for reopening the state, Seattle is still in phase one, in which restaurants are only allowed to open for pickup and takeout. The second phase allows for certain relaxed restrictions on businesses. Restaurants can open for dine-in services at half capacity, as long as they adhere to a set of additional guidelines, including eliminating bar seating, distributing single-use menus, and logging diners’ personal info on a voluntary basis for contact tracing. Counties that have met certain benchmarks for reducing COVID-19 infections, specifically having 10 infections per 100,000 people or fewer over a period of two weeks, can move to phase two quicker than others by applying for a variance.
But like restaurants out on the San Juan Islands, which are also eligible to reopen, most chefs and owners who spoke to Eater Seattle seem to be moving forward cautiously in phase two. Hitchcock chef and owner Brendan McGill has no immediate plans to resume dine-in services (there are currently some takeout options), and Ba Sa co-owner Trinh Nguyen says she’s hesitant as well, and may simply continue her restaurant’s to-go offerings for now. “We are gathering staff and doing training,” she says, noting that there’s still a shortage of masks and gloves, and getting employees to come back has been a challenge. “Some are choosing not to go back to work due to having people of high-risk in their household.” Ba Sa may update plans early next week.
One exception to such hesitation seems to be the Port Orchard diner That One Place, which reopened over Memorial Day weekend as a “peaceful” protest, according to a Facebook post from the restaurant, despite the fact that Kitsap had not yet been approved to enter phase two at the time.
Currently, more than half the counties in the state have entered phase two of Washington’s reopening plan. In addition to Kitsap, Snohomish County — which includes Lynnwood, Edmonds, and Everett — applied for a variance to Inslee’s current stay-at-home order Thursday. That application is still under review.
Meanwhile, Seattle and the rest of King County will likely have to wait a bit longer. Though Inslee’s stay-at-home order is scheduled to expire Monday, the governor has said that it’s unlikely all counties in the state will be eligible to move to the next phase of the reopening plan by then. In fact, King County could be a long way from returning, with the rate of COVID-19 infection still much higher than the phase two benchmarks.
Local officials are concerned that the disease can come back with a vengeance in the Seattle area if measures loosen up, and are pushing for more contact tracing capacity. To date, there have been 7,863 confirmed coronavirus cases in King County and 559 deaths.