EVERETT — Welcome back restaurants, retail stores, barber shops and nail salons.
Effective immediately, residents can gather with up to five people from outside their household each week. Restaurants can operate at 50% capacity and retailers can conduct in-store sales, with some health requirements. Barber shops, hair and nail salons, tattoo parlors and pet groomers can reopen, too.
Places of worship are allowed to hold in-person services, weddings and funerals in line with physical distancing rules and size constraints. Camping and other outdoor recreation activities, such as biking and climbing, can resume with limited group sizes. Nannies, house cleaners and real-estate firms can also return to work.
“I’m greatly relieved that we’re moving forward,” Somers said. “I know this has been really hard on businesses, families and a lot of people.”
With fewer restrictions in place, county leaders ask that residents continue to wash their hands regularly, carry hand sanitizer and wear a mask.
Months after Inslee issued his statewide stay-home order on March 23, which shut down non-essential commerce and prohibited large gatherings and other activities, he laid out a plan for reopening the state in four phases.
If counties meet certain criteria for new infections, testing capacity and contact tracing, they can advance through the stages, three weeks at a time. By the end of May, the state had allowed about two thirds of Washington counties to enter Phase 2. But not Snohomish County.
At the end of last week, Inslee introduced more lenient requirements that the county could meet. So local leaders amended the county’s application and submitted it Monday evening. Approval came on Friday in the form of a letter.
Locally, the spread of the virus is continuing to dip. In three of the past seven days, the daily number of new COVID-19 cases was below 10.
Additionally, outbreaks at long-term care facilities, which have been hit the hardest by the virus, are “winding down,” the county’s top health official, Dr. Chris Spitters, said during the Friday briefing with reporters.
“It’s good to remember that moving to Phase 2 and allowing more business activity does not mean that everything’s back to normal,” he said earlier this week. “Other than those essential activities and the newly permitted ones, we’d really like folks to try to stay home, limit their social contacts, limit other contacts so that they reduce risk of transmission.”
Businesses must continue to meet certain requirements, such as posting signs that advise customers to wear masks, providing employees with personal protective equipment and maintaining six-foot distancing between staff members and patrons. Some businesses also need to comply with industry-specific standards.
On Friday, the health district sent Snohomish County restaurants an email outlining those steps, spokeswoman Heather Thomas said.
And starting Monday, all workers statewide must wear a face covering, unless they have no in-person interactions.
The county is relying on residents to report businesses that aren’t complying. Revoking business licenses from violators is one option for punishment, Somers said during the briefing. The health district has some jurisdiction over restaurants, too, if they don’t follow the rules.
“We’ll look at the nature of the offense and try to do something that is proportionate,” Somers said. “But at the end of the day, to be successful, we have limited capacity to enforce. We’re going to be really relying on people to support those businesses that are doing the right thing and protecting your health. If they clearly are not … we ask you not to support those businesses.”
During the second phase, the county must continue to monitor the spread of COVID-19, according to a letter that Washington Secretary of Health John Wiesman sent the county on Friday. Officials must also report any outbreaks and contact tracing metrics to the state Department of Health.
People who are older than 65 or have an underlying health condition, such as diabetes or heart disease, should still limit their activity during the second phase, public health officials have cautioned.
Thirteen other counties advanced in stages Friday, the state announced. Along with Snohomish, Whatcom, Skagit, Pierce, Clark and Okanogan counties also are entering Phase 2. King County is moving to an expanded version of Phase 1. Columbia, Ferry, Garfield, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Stevens and Wahkiakum counties can now enter the third phase of Inslee’s plan.
Wiesman can move a county back to an earlier phase if large outbreaks of the virus occur or if other circumstances change related to the availability of protective gear, testing or hospital beds.
Snohomish County must remain in the second phase for at least three weeks and must get further approval from the state to advance to the third phase.
Phase 3 brings back libraries, museums and theaters and gatherings of no more than 50 people, among other activities and businesses.
“Our trend is really good. And if we keep that up, we should be in pretty good shape to get there in three weeks,” Somers said in an interview. “I’m very hopeful that that’s the case.”
While the county and other parts of the state advance in reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic, thousands statewide have taken to the streets to protest police brutality, often in close quarters.
“Certainly the potential for transmission to occur in a large gathering like that is there,” Spitters said during the briefing.
But it’s too early to tell, he said. Becoming infected with the virus can take days, or even two weeks, and getting test results also increases the time frame.
It will take one to three weeks to determine if the protests have caused the virus to spike, he said.
Gov. Inslee has said it’s not the state’s job to interfere with peaceful protesters. He, and Spitters, ask protesters to wear a mask and do their best to maintain some social distancing.
Also on Friday, the health district announced it will open a large coronavirus testing site, like the one previously stationed at Everett Memorial Stadium, somewhere along the I-5 or Highway 99 corridors for the majority of June.
Previously, tests have been for people experiencing symptoms like a fever over 100.4 degrees, cough, difficulty breathing, sore throat, aches, chills or a loss of taste or smell.
The criteria also include anyone over the age of 60, those with underlying health conditions, anyone who was in contact with someone who recently contracted the virus, workers at a business that has experienced an outbreak, residents of long-term care homes and those living in a homeless shelter.
More details about the county’s testing plan will be announced next week, Spitters said.
Local businesses react
Half of the tables will be removed and the floor will be marked to ensure six feet between customers. But soon — likely next week — the Cookie Mill in Stanwood will reopen its dining room for the first time in weeks.
“We really miss our customers,” said Marybeth Sande, the co-owner of the Stanwood bakery and eatery. “It will be a great celebration once we can welcome them back in.”
Local retailers and restaurants were thrilled by Friday’s news that Snohomish County has progressed to the next phase of the state’s reopening plan, clearing the way for many to reopen with some limitations.
The Cookie Mill’s drive-thru has remained open during the coronavirus crisis. More outdoor seating has also been added in anticipation of the reopening.
“We just want to make sure everybody’s safe and comfortable,” Sande said.
The county expected some restaurants and businesses would reopen by Friday night, Snohomish Health District spokeswoman Heather Thomas said.
Staff at El Paraiso in downtown Everett are preparing to open Saturday night with about 20 tables, owners Benjamin and Martin Guerrero said.
In downtown Edmonds, patrons of The Market must wear masks upon entry. Chef and general manager Hans Korompis said he hopes to open this weekend. Seating will be limited to the outdoor patio, where partitions will separate tables, he said.
Friday’s announcement came as a relief to Rachel Nanfito, who manages 3rd Street Book Exchange in downtown Marysville. Amid the pandemic, the shop’s owners had to dip into savings to continue running the business and pay the rent.
Now, Nanfito is excited that patrons will be allowed in the store once again.
“We are really a store for browsers,” she said. “We rely on people wanting to find that treasure — that book they didn’t know they wanted. So being open allows for that to happen again.”