Gov. Jay Inslee’s announcement of a return to stricter guidelines due to an uptick in COVID-19 has local businesses scrambling in an effort to stay alive.
Inslee’s executive orders reinstate some of the familiar bans seen last spring that will affect restaurants, bars, fitness centers, religious services and grocery stores, as well as indoor and social gatherings. The restrictions will be in place for through Dec. 14.
The biggest restriction comes on social gatherings — indoor social gatherings with people outside your household will be prohibited unless you quarantine for 14 days prior, which can be reduced to seven days with a negative COVID test.
“This spike puts us in a more dangerous a position as we were in March,” Inslee said. “And it means, unfortunately, the time has come to reinstate restrictions on activities statewide to preserve the public’s well-being and to save lives.
“These were very difficult decisions that have very real consequences to people’s livelihoods. I recognize that and don’t take those impacts lightly, but we must act now and act quickly to slow the spread of this disease.”
Restaurants and bars will once again have to close for indoor service; outdoor dining is limited to five people and to-go service is still allowed.
Bainbridge Island and Poulsbo businesses are drumming up ideas to keep customers.
“We are experimenting with a few different things. We rented a very large, sturdy tent and we are working on getting some side walls for it to block the wind. So far it hasn’t been the cold but the wind that’s been bugging people. We also have some really nice, big heaters out there,” said Dave Lambert, owner of the Slippery Pig Brewery in Poulsbo.
The Madison Diner in Bainbridge is still open for outdoor dining.
“Join us in our comfortable outdoor dining area, or take it go,” its Facebook post reads. “Together, we can get through the next four weeks of a partial shut down.”
While small-business owners say they understand the gravity of the pandemic, it does little to ease their economic anxiety — especially in the absence of the federal unemployment benefits that helped some of their employees stay afloat in the spring and summer. This lockdown also is coming at busiest time of year – the holiday season, which can make or break many businesses even in a normal year.
“It is really disappointing because I wholeheartedly believe the way we were following the guidelines,” said Brendan McGill, who owns Bruciato, the Hitchcock Deli and Burgerhaus, “and especially with the way our guests were participating. After eight months we figured out what works.”
McGill’s restaurants will continue to use every available avenue to keep the businesses going, including having outdoor events; though a string of recent rainstorms in Washington has made that difficult.
Fitness centers must close but can have five people for outdoor events. While gyms such as Island Fitness in Winslow have been able to pivot to offering virtual classes, many members may be unable to use them and end up freezing their memberships.
Not a single case of COVID-19 has been linked to the gym, said Michael Rosenthal, who co-owns Island Fitness along with his wife, Alexa.
“I just feel that we have been operating safely, and there is a lot of data that shows that gyms that make certain efforts can operate safely,” Rosenthal said.
Rosenthal reported Island Fitness had its best January and February in its 18-year history. But without any further business aid, they have had to furlough staff, and those who remain are working at half of their normal wages.
“It’s heart-breaking, and it’s really difficult to see a way through this without additional aid,” Rosenthal said, though he added that he believed there will be a way to save the gym.
With Inslee’s lockdown, personal services, grocery stores and religious services will be capped at 25 percent capacity, with a maximum of 200 people for churches. Funerals and weddings cannot have more than 30 people, and receptions are banned. Bowling alleys, movie theaters, zoos and museums are closed for indoor services. Only outdoor visits will be allowed at long-term care facilities.
“This is a tough pill to swallow for many of us but may be what we need as a state to control the spread and recover our economy,” a Facebook post reads for both The Historic Lynwood Theatre and Bainbridge Cinemas, which had to close their doors once again Monday.
While city parks and playgrounds are still open, the city of Poulsbo has closed all public restrooms.
“Sorry folks, we must do this to keep people safe,” Poulsbo Mayor Becky Erickson said. “We also ask you to keep six feet apart when using the city of Poulsbo parks.”
Schools are unaffected; local control over that is important, Inslee said. Also exempted are collegiate and pro sports teams that have played during the pandemic. Inslee cited their “rigorous protocols” for that.
On enforcement, the state won’t strictly regulate indoor gatherings in private homes; it will rely on residents to follow the rules.
“Look, you’re not going to expect state troopers coming to your door if you have a big Thanksgiving dinner,” Inslee said, “but by having a requirement legally, we do hope people … will abide by the law, which is to not have these unnecessary social interactions, which are dangerous right now.”
Since March, the number of confirmed cases reached 130,000 in Washington with 2,519 deaths as of Monday. The state recorded a record number of COVID cases for a single day on Nov. 13, with 2,417. Just two weeks prior, the state Department of Health had announced a low number of 1,000 new cases in a day for the first time since mid-summer.
In Kitsap County, the cumulative case count roared past 2,000 Monday. The current rate of positive cases per 100,000 residents was 152.1 and the percent positive rate was 5.2. Just a month ago Kitsap had a rate of 48 cases per 100,000 residents.
Deputy Secretary of Health for COVID-19 Response Lacy Fehrenbach said: “The only way to slow the spread is for us all to recommit to the actions we know work. We have flattened our curve twice before, and it’s time to do it again.”
Inslee also announced $50 million from the state to help people in COVID-affected industries. The money will likely be distributed through grants and loans. But that money is a relative drop in the bucket compared with the benefits given out by the federal government early in the pandemic. The governor urged the public to lobby Congress for another relief funding package and extend federal unemployment insurance.
Last week, the state announced a travel advisory in conjunction with Oregon and California urging those who arrive from other states or countries to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. The advisory also recommends that folks limit interactions to those in their immediate household. Inslee asked that residents limit themselves to essential travel, such as for work and study, health, immediate medical care, critical infrastructure support, economic services and supply chains, and safety and security.
“COVID-19 cases have doubled in Washington over the past two weeks. This puts our state in as dangerous a position today as we were in March,” Inslee said. “Limiting and reducing travel is one way to reduce further spread of the disease.”