Hundreds debate fast-action bill to skip first phase of recovery plan

  • Friday, January 22, 2021 1:30am
  • News

By Sydney Brown

WNPA News Service

Dozens of business owners — from restaurant owners to bowling alley managers — told state officials that continued COVID-19 restrictions place small businesses at risk of permanent closure, but state healthcare officials said a rush to reopen businesses puts the public at risk during a pandemic that has yet to to be controlled.

In all, more than 1,500 Washington residents convened online Jan. 20 to debate a bill before the legislature that would ease government limits on indoor dining and entertainment.

Sponsored by both Democrat and Republican senators, Senate Bill 5114 and its companion House Bill 1321 would essentially skip the first phase of Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Healthy Washington—Roadmap to Recovery” plan, allowing for 25 percent indoor capacity at restaurants and gyms, and indoor entertainment like theaters and bowling alleys.

Dannielle Knutson, a majority partner at Budd Bay Cafe, Oyster House and River’s Edge in Olympia, told the Senate State Government & Elections Committee that after her husband died of cancer, she was left to weather the personal and financial burden of staying closed. It has cost her $120,000 a month since the beginning of the pandemic, she said.

“It’s left me fighting for our restaurants … every day that we are not open, we are continuing to pile on more debt in our businesses as well as my personal life,” Knutson said.

State officials acknowledge the severe impact on businesses and promised more help for those shuttered by COVID-19 restrictions, but health officials say pushing for a quick reopening will only feed the growing pandemic.

Lacy Fehrenbach, deputy secretary of health for COVID-19 response at the Washington State Department of Health, said the regional, phased approach to reopening is based on evaluating COVID-19 case trends in terms of healthcare capacity.

Following the winter holidays, hospitals statewide saw an increase in COVID-19 cases, she said.

Kat Wood, a frontline healthcare worker at the St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma, said she saw an “alarming rise” in cases after the holidays at her hospital, which is now at 94 percent capacity; under current guidelines, regions cannot move into Phase 2 until intensive care unit capacity is less than 90 percent for more than two weeks.

“With cases rising and hospitalizations rising, we do not believe the state is ready to move forward,” Fehrenbach said. “The bill goes too fast without any health data to support such a movement.”

One of the bill’s 16 sponsors, Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, said the bill did in fact support science and data, though no one presented evidence during the hearing to contradict the department of health’s numbers.

“Thousands of restaurants and other small family businesses statewide have been lost for good – decimated by rules that are not supported by data and science and are enforced by state employees who have not had to skip a single paycheck,” Braun said in a statement after the hearing.

More in News

School board votes to keep superintendent through June 2022

Three weeks after selecting a search firm to find its next superintendent,… Continue reading

Sequim hosts Dose 1 clinic on March 11; registration opens tomorrow

The Jamestown Family Health Clinic hosts a Dose 1 COVID vaccination drive-through… Continue reading

Curbside alcohol service proposed for extension

By Joseph Claypoole WNPA News Service People will continue to be able… Continue reading

Clallam, Jefferson officials encourage any of three COVID-19 vaccines

Both North Olympic Peninsula counties remained clear of new COVID-19 cases Monday,March… Continue reading

Weekend clinic provides Pfizer vaccinations

Nearly 1,800 Clallam County residents received a dose of the Pfizer vaccine… Continue reading

House approves ban on certain police use-of-force tactics

By Sydney Brown WNPA News Service A ban on the use of… Continue reading

House legislators approve clean fuels bill

By Joseph Claypoole WNPA News Service A low carbon fuel bill passed… Continue reading

Juneteenth steps toward state holiday status

By Sydney Brown WNPA News Service Rep. Kirsten Harris-Talley, D-Seattle, often sees… Continue reading

Olympic Medical Center’s vaccine supply is steady

Olympic Medical Center has received a consistent supply of COVID-19 vaccine and… Continue reading

Most Read