Clallam and Jefferson counties moved into Phase 2 of the state’s Roadmap for Recovery this week.
That means indoor dining is allowed at 25 percent capacity with a maximum of six people per table; gyms and indoor fitness centers can open at 25 percent capacity; outdoor sporting competitions can resume with limited spectators; and weddings and funerals can increase capacities.
Retail stores are limited to 25 percent capacity, according to the Roadmap plan.
County health officials, however, urge restraint and caution to avoid the reopening being only for the short term.
All but six of Washington state’s 39 counties are in Phase 2 of the state’s economic reopening plan as of Monday, with five new regions meeting the requirements necessary to join two other regions that already had seen a loosening of COVID-19 restrictions, including limited indoor dining.
Clallam and Jefferson counties are included in the Northwest Region, which also contain Kitsap and Mason counties, a situation roundly condemned by local health officers and District 24 legislators, given the smaller number of COVID-19 cases on the North Olympic Peninsula.
Gov. Jay Inslee announced on Feb. 11 that the Northwest, East, North, North Central and Southwest regions, which comprise 26 counties across the state, will join the Puget Sound and West regions in the second phase of the plan.
The South Central region part of the state — Kittitas, Yakima, Benton, Franklin, Walla Walla and Columbia counties — will remain in Phase 1 for at least another two weeks.
“We believe this is a reasonably scientific-based position on the current conditions of this pandemic,” Inslee said.
Local health officers support the move to ease restrictions in Clallam and Jefferson counties because it will help struggling peninsula businesses.
Still, they urge residents to use caution because virus transmission remains high and could increase if people aren’t careful.
“I think it will be a very positive step for the community,” Dr. Allison Berry, Clallam County health officer, said last week.
“I know that many of our businesses are struggling and have been very much looking forward to the possibility of a very cautious and thoughtful reopening.
“I do stress ‘cautious and thoughtful.’ I think one important thing to know is that moving forward to Phase 2 means that there are some things that we can do that we couldn’t before, but we still have to be thoughtful about how much exposure we have.”
Berry and Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer, recommend people avoid large gatherings and continue to wear face masks and practice social distancing and good hand hygiene.
“As we move into Phase 2, I just really want to encourage everyone to continue to exercise the caution that caused us to make it this far,” Berry said.
If people are not cautious, it’s possible for case rates to spike and the movement forward could be reversed, Locke said.
“We have concerns that COVID levels are still pretty high,” he said.
“If people continue or increase their cautions, it should go fine, but if people, say, interpret this as a ‘green light’ to start increasing risky behaviors, we’re likely to see this as a being a short-term reopening.
“Hopefully this will be beneficial for the business owners. I think it’s been profoundly unfair that business owners have had to pay the cost of all of these closures,” Locke said.
“If the U.S. had a rational COVID policy, the people who closed would be compensated for their economic loss, because it’s not the fault of restaurant owners that indoor venues like that promote COVID transmission,” he continued.
“I’m completely in favor of any openings where we can control transmission.”
Some restaurants on the peninsula that were able to have enough airflow with windows and doors open have been able to seat a limited amount of people inside, but the move to Phase 2 allows them to no longer have to expose customers to cold winter air.
Restaurant owners across the Peninsula were busy preparing for the return of indoor dining late last week.
Owner Dee Gardner of Joshua’s Restaurant in Port Angeles, said the restaurant has been doing well with take-out, but that she misses the community.
“It feels great,” Gardner said. “I’m very happy to be open.
“We’ve been doing well with takeout, but we miss our customers. It’s like family after awhile. We’re all excited to reopen. We’ve been working with a really short staff, so being able to bring everyone back is exciting.”
Luke Shifflett, co-owner of Sunshine Cafe Inc in Sequim, has had the restaurant open indoors partially with the open-air policy and will be able to expand a little to about 15-20 people inside, while keeping two tables outside for those who do not feel safe dining indoors, he said.
While he was glad for the expansion, Shifflett would “like to see (restriction easements) move forward quicker” due to the lower levels of virus activity that the Peninsula has in comparison with the rest of the state.
Coyote BBQ in Port Angeles owner Michael McQuay said the restaurant will be reopening indoor dining this week and serve about 30 people indoors.
“It feels pretty darn good,” McQuay said. “It’s about time.”
Anji Scalf, executive director of the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce, said she doesn’t feel the shift to Phase 2 means much drastic change because so many restaurants were doing open-air.
“But even 25 percent capacity helps,” she said.
“One of the hardest things is that so many of our routines have been disrupted and a lot of restaurants say their customers are like families.”
Scalf cautioned to residents that “we’re still in the thick (of the pandemic) and we still won’t know the (financial) impact until months from now.”
“A lot of folks are talking about recovery, but I think we’re still not in recovery,” she said. “We’re in hold the line.”
Vaccination clinic close
Vaccination clinics in Sequim, Port Angeles and Forks scheduled for last weekend were canceled because of inclement weather.
The Sequim clinic organized by the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe on Saturday was canceled “because of snow and high winds forecasted by the National Weather Service,” said Brent Simcosky, Health Services Director for the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, in an email late Thursday.
“The safety of both our volunteers, staff and patients is of the utmost importance,” he said.
The Forks vaccination clinic was canceled by mid-week, and Clallam County Emergency Management officials announced Friday, Feb. 12, that the Port Angeles clinic slated for the weekend has also been cancelled.
Berry said those with canceled appointments will be contacted to reschedule the following weekend.