On Friday, King County received approval to reopen more business activity during the COVID-19 pandemic. In what Gov. Jay Inslee called “phase 1.5” of Washington’s gradual reopening plan, Seattle can now resume dine-in services indoors at 25 percent capacity and have outdoor seating at 50 percent capacity. The county had applied to a variance for the state’s four-phased reopening plan Wednesday.
According to the new guidelines, all tables and chairs both indoors and outdoors must be separated by six feet of distance, though additional seating will be allowed provided it follows best practices from the King County public health department.
If certain establishments want to add additional outdoor seating, they need to seek approval for that through the city. Several proposals for outdoor plazas are currently waiting to move forward, including one on Capitol Hill and one in Ballard.
Restaurants — along with bars, breweries, and wineries that serve food — must also adhere to these other safety guidelines laid out by the state. Those include providing hand sanitizers in easily accessible locations, providing single-use menus, and making sure all employees are wearing masks. Even though diners are not required to wear face coverings, Inslee has said that businesses can refuse service to customers who don’t wear them without facing legal repercussions — and public health officials strongly encourage wearing masks to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
For those following Washington’s complex four-phased plan to reopen the economy, Seattle is still currently in phase one, even with this approval. It has not yet met certain COVID-19 benchmarks to enter phase two, which would allow 50 percent dining room capacity. 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.
However, Inslee announced last week that counties can apply for certain variances throughout each phase, in which specific business restrictions could be relaxed. And that’s where Seattle is now.
The approval marks a big step forward in the city’s plan to reopen small businesses and comes nearly three full months after Inslee’s stay-at-home order completely shut down restaurants dining rooms across the city, although they were allowed to offer takeout and delivery.
Despite the new rules, Seattle diners shouldn’t expect major changes to service immediately. Several restaurateurs and chefs have already expressed some trepidation around opening at even half capacity, let alone 25 percent capacity. And the new guidelines likely won’t change that sentiment, especially as protests plan to continue throughout many areas of the city this weekend.
However, a handful of restaurants and breweries have already announced plans to reopen, even under the current limitations. The short list so far includes Daniel’s Broiler in Leschi and Fremont Brewing, which posted a bouncy video about the new rules.
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UPDATED: June 5, 2020, 2:32 p.m.: This article was updated with further clarification on safety guidelines and mentions of a couple of restaurants already planning to reopen.