The Seattle area was among the earliest areas in the US to be hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, as the first confirmed case and death in the US was reported in Kirkland. More than half a year later, the city continues to face devastating health and economic repercussions, while cases have still not decreased enough to reopen restaurants and bars at full capacity.
Here’s a schedule of how COVID-19 has impacted Seattle food, from before it closed to the ongoing reopening process.
February 29th: The first confirmed COVID-related death in the US is related to a long-term care facility in Kirkland. Governor Jay Inslee declares a state of emergency.
9th March: The Starbucks location on First Avenue and University Street will close after the company learns that an employee has tested positive for COVID-19. This is the first time a case has been publicly linked to a Seattle restaurant.
March 12th: After Amazon and other tech companies rolled out work-from-home policies, many restaurants in downtown and South Lake Union are announcing temporary closings, citing a sharp decline in business, including Tom Douglas.
March, 15: Inslee signs an emergency announcement and closes restaurants and bars nationwide to dine there. Carry-out and delivery are still permitted.
March 23: Inslee officially places an order for the stay at home. Under the new rules, all Washingtoners must stay at home for at least the next two weeks unless they are engaged in “essential” activities such as getting food, going to the pharmacy, or seeing a doctor. Restaurant take out is seen as an essential service (bars can also stay open for take away if they serve a full menu).
2nd of April: Inslee is extending the home stay order through May. Dining rooms must still be closed during this time, but restaurants and bars may still offer takeout and delivery options.
April 22nd: Inslee sets the general outline for the state’s COVID-19 stimulus plan while officials study data to determine the best approach to lifting certain home-stay restrictions. However, it is still unclear what the immediate future will mean for restaurants, cafes and bars.
1st of May: Inslee is extending the state’s stay at home order for another month. He also gives further details on the recovery plan and introduces four phases of reopening. Although the entire state is currently only in the first phase, restaurants could reopen in phase two with 50 percent capacity, with table sizes limited to no more than five guests. The bars would remain closed for dine-in services.
12th of May: Inslee eventually publishes a list of detailed guidelines restaurants must adopt before they can resume dining service during the second phase of Washington’s reopening plan. Previously unannounced actions include eliminating seats in the bar, distributing one-way meals, and logging guests’ personal information to facilitate contact tracing.
May 16: Inslee is quickly withdrawing the mandatory contract tracking part. It is now optional.
June 5th: King County receives approval to reopen some business activities during a phase one departure that Inslee refers to as “Phase 1.5”. Seattle can now resume indoor dining at 25 percent capacity and outdoor seating at 50 percent capacity. On the first weekend of the reopening, there are long lines in front of breweries and restaurants.
June 16: Less than two weeks after officially reopening, Fremont Brewing becomes the first Seattle location to publicly announce a temporary closure due to an employee’s positive COVID-19 test. It will then open again a week later.
20th June: King County is officially moving from phase 1.5 to phase two. This means that the indoor dining capacity is doubled to 50 percent (outdoor seating remains the same). The tables must be at least three feet apart to comply with social distancing measures.
23rd June: Inslee ordered a nationwide mask mandate. Diners must wear face covering indoors except when actively eating or drinking, and must stay outside when social distancing measures cannot be maintained.
7th of July: Insee goes one step further. Businesses – including restaurants – are now forced to refuse service to those who do not wear a mask. Failure to do so could result in a fine or loss of a business license.
July 9: Public Health Seattle – King County is temporarily closing Duke’s Chowder House on Alki Beach amid a recent outbreak of COVID-19 workers. It is the first time since the pandemic began that King County health officials have temporarily closed a Seattle restaurant over coronavirus concerns.
The week of July 16: Amazon is announcing to its Seattle employees that they are welcome to work from home until January 8, 2021. This directive was already in force until October 2020, but is now being expanded. This means businesses near the Amazon campus are likely to have even more problems than before.
July 23: Inslee announces that Washington’s “Safe Start” plan will reinstate certain restrictions due to the continued surge in COVID-19 cases in the state. Bars, breweries, taverns, and wineries must now close for indoor service (whether or not they serve food), indoor dine-in for tables in restaurants is restricted to members of the same household, and restaurants must play every game close areas (like pool and darts). The alcohol service for all restaurants and bars will also be interrupted at 10 p.m. Both bars and restaurants can serve people with a capacity of 50 percent outdoors with no additional restrictions. Seattle is still in phase two.
3rd August: Slight change of plan. Newly amended guidelines allow bars and other establishments that focus on drinking to serve two people at half capacity in phase – provided they either convert their existing food license to a full restaurant license or have enough food available on their menu.
August 11th – today: Progress on further phases of the state’s “Safe Start” plan has not yet been completed. A silver lining for restaurants (and their customers) this summer has been the expansion of al fresco dining. Seattle has made it easier for restaurants to apply for a temporary “outdoor cafe permit,” and the city has begun issuing road closures to allow businesses to create European-style outdoor spaces. These continue to appear in the city.