On Friday, King County received approval to resume further business activities during the COVID-19 pandemic. In what Governor Jay Inslee dubbed “Phase 1.5” of Washington’s gradual reopening plan, Seattle can resume indoor dining at 25 percent capacity and outdoor seating at 50 percent capacity. The county had requested a derogation for the state’s four-phase reopening plan on Wednesday.
According to the new guidelines, all tables and chairs indoors and outdoors must be two meters apart. However, additional seating is permitted provided King County’s health department best practices are followed.
If certain establishments wish to add additional outdoor seating, they will need to seek it out in the city. Several outdoor space proposals 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 state-set safety guidelines. This includes providing hand sanitizer in easily accessible locations, providing disposable menus, and ensuring that all employees are wearing masks. While guests are not required to wear face coverings, Inslee has stated that companies can refuse service to customers who do not wear them without legal impact – and public health officials strongly recommend wearing masks to avoid the spread of Contain COVID-19.
For those pursuing Washington’s complex four-phase plan to reopen the economy, Seattle is currently still in the first phase despite this approval. Certain COVID-19 benchmarks for entering the second phase, which would allow 50 percent capacity for the dining room, have not yet been met. In phase three, restaurants with a capacity of 75 percent and bars with 25 percent can reopen. In phase four, restaurants and bars can be fully reopened. Each phase should be at least three weeks apart in order to evaluate data on the spread of COVID-19.
However, Inslee announced last week that counties will be able to request certain derogations at any stage where certain business restrictions could be relaxed. And there is Seattle now.
The approval is a big step forward in the city’s plan to reopen small businesses. It comes almost three full months after Inslee’s stay-at-home mandate completely shut down dining rooms at restaurants across town despite being allowed to offer takeaway and delivery.
Despite the new rules, guests in Seattle shouldn’t expect major changes in service immediately. Several restaurateurs and chefs have already raised concerns that they only have half the capacity, let alone 25 percent. And the new guidelines are unlikely to change that sentiment, especially as protests are set to continue in many areas of the city this weekend.
However, a handful of restaurants and breweries have already announced plans to reopen, even under the current restrictions. The previous shortlist includes Daniels Broiler in Leschi and Fremont Brewing, who have posted a hopping video about the new rules.
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UPDATED: June 5, 2020 at 2:32 p.m .: This article has been updated with further clarification on safety guidelines and mentions of some restaurants that are already planning to reopen.