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Seattle Restaurants May Reopen Outdoor Seating at Half Capacity Soon

King County plans to apply for an exception to phase one guidelines as Gov. Jay Inslee announced a transition from the stay-at-home order

Outdoor seating near Seattle’s pier
If approved by the state, Seattle can reopen outdoor dining at 50 percent.

On Friday, King County announced a plan to reopen certain business activity during the COVID-19 pandemic: Under the new guidelines, restaurants would be able to reopen outdoor seating areas at 50 percent of their normal capacity; indoor dining rooms would remain closed. The application still needs to be submitted and the plan needs to be approved by the state, so nothing has officially changed yet. Other applications for variances to Washington state guidelines have taken at least a few days, so the process may be completed as soon as next week.

This announcement comes shortly after Gov. Jay Inslee declared that Washington’s current stay-at-home order will officially end on Sunday night, as originally scheduled. The state’s stay-at-home order will be replaced by some modifications to the current four-phased reopening plan billed as “Safe Start,” which loosens restrictions on businesses, activities, and gatherings gradually, and varies from county to county.

Inslee said counties in phase one of the reopening plan, such as King County, can also now apply for certain exceptions to the guidelines, even if they don’t meet exact criteria for phase two. The governor called this rule “Phase 1.5.” Other exceptions in King County’s new application include personal and professional services opening at 25 percent of building occupancy, and the resumption of additional construction projects.

Even though there’s still no exact date on when Seattle restaurants will be allowed to reopen for indoor dine-in service, that time appears to be getting closer, especially given the newly relaxed rules on outdoor dining.

King County’s plan also appears to be following the trajectory of other states and cities accelerating reopening timelines. On Friday, Los Angeles announced that it would reopen dining rooms, after California Gov. Gavin Newsome granted it a variance.

King County is still in phase one of Washington’s reopening plan, which originally allowed only for takeout and delivery. It isn’t until phase two that restaurants can reopen 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. In phase three, restaurants can reopen at 75 percent capacity and bars at 25 percent. Phase four allows restaurants and bars to fully reopen. Each phase is meant to be separated by at least three weeks to evaluate data around the spread of COVID-19.

But Inslee made clear that counties in the first phase will now have a little more flexibility moving forward. Originally, counties needed to have a coronavirus infection rate of 10 per 100,000 people or fewer over a period of two weeks to even apply for advancement to phase two. Now, that benchmark will be 25 per 100,000 people. King County is close, but still above that benchmark, at 28 new coronavirus cases per 100,000 over the past 14 days. It can also apply for variances in phase one guidelines, such as the new outdoor dining rules.

One of the other key parts of the state’s new order is a directive on face masks. Starting June 8, businesses across the state must provide facial coverings to workers and employees must wear them, unless they don’t have in-person interactions. This directive mirrors what King County has already put in place, although it’s worth noting that this isn’t a law. Inslee said he “didn’t want to hancuff people working in a book store.” He hoped that there would be voluntary compliance to the directive.

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