The Eight Ball Cafe in Everett, seen here on May 8, remains open for takeout only. (Sue Misao / The Herald)

The Eight Ball Cafe in Everett, seen here on May 8, remains open for takeout only. (Sue Misao / The Herald)

Inslee changes course, says diners won’t have to sign in

Restaurants may still ask customers for information that contact tracers could use to stop an outbreak.

OLYMPIA — The state is dropping plans to require that customers provide their name and contact information when restaurants reopen for dining.

“I think where we’ll end up is giving customers an option of leaving a phone number or not,” Gov. Jay Inslee said at an afternoon news conference. He said he’ll have more to say on the subject “in the next day or so.”

A requirement to keep a log — and hold onto the information for a month — is among guidelines issued May 11 by the governor’s office as a requisite for restaurants to restart dining service in the second phase of the state’s reopening. That opportunity could come as early as June 1, though Inslee said the date is “not set in stone.”

The purpose is to prevent an outbreak of coronavirus. If a worker or customer tests positive, information in the log can be used to track down those who may have come into contact with the infected person. Inslee has emphasized the information would be kept private and restaurants could not use it for any private or commercial purpose.

“We want to be able to open restaurants. People are anxious for that and we want to do some common-sense things so that if someone does have an infection at a restaurant, we will be able to save other patrons’ lives,” he said earlier this week. “We ought to be able to do both.”

As of Thursday, the state’s tally of coronavirus cases reached 17,773 with 983 deaths. In Snohomish County, there have been 122 deaths and 3,049 confirmed and probable cases.

Inslee responded to the coronavirus pandemic with a statewide stay-home order March 23, which put the clamps on the economy and much of societal interactions.

This month, amid mostly favorable signs in the state’s fight against COVID-19, the governor is restarting the economy and reviving public life under his four-stage Safe Start plan.

Many outdoor recreation areas are accessible again. Stalled construction projects are going again. Car dealers and car washes are open, and retailers, wineries and bars can now provide curbside service.

In the next phase, restaurants, retail stores, beauty salons, barber shops and offices of a host of professional services will be able to reopen, if compliant with guidance issued by Inslee. As part of the reopening plan, eight rural counties are already in the second phase, which will give government and industry leaders insight on how well the rules work in real time.

There is no set timeline for future phases. The state needs to be able to conduct more tests each day than it now does, Inslee said. That could change if the federal government delivers the hundreds of thousands of test kit materials it has promised, he said.

As places open, Inslee said he’d advise people to still consider the necessity of going to certain public spaces, such as those where all the interactions are inside. That is where the threat of exposure would be greater.

“This is a big question,” he said. “I don’t want my family going out unless it is kind of necessary.”

We won’t know what lives are saved if you avoid going to “an unnecessary social event,” but lives will be saved, he said.

However, he added a few minutes later, when restaurants reopen, he won’t be reluctant to go.

Restaurants will be able to operate at half-capacity in the next phase. Buffets and salad bars will not be allowed. No bar seating either. Tables will need to be set far enough apart to assure physical distancing. Only single-use menus are allowed.

Diners will be strongly encouraged to wear a mask or face covering when they talk with employees or get up to use the restroom.

Each industry will get its own guidance.

When in-store shopping starts, retailers will be able to serve 30% of their maximum occupancy. Fitting rooms must be cleaned after each customer’s use. Any unpurchased items left in the room should be removed from the sales floor and stored for at least 24 hours before being returned to the inventory.

Retailers must assure physical distancing is maintained among customers by eliminating choke points and marking high traffic areas with 6-foot markers. And to protect workers, sneeze guards or other barriers should be in place at all fixed places of potentially close interaction.

To read details on guidance for other industries, go to coronavirus.wa.gov.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald net.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.

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