New 'Phase 2' variance criteria allows Spokane County to apply to reopen
Last updated 5/21/2020 at 10:49am
SPOKANE — Spokane County is one of 10 counties that can now apply to move on to Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s plan to reopen Washington’s economy.
The new criteria allow counties to apply to reopen if they have fewer than 10 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents over a 14-day period.
Currently, Spokane County meets that criteria.
The new criteria makes larger counties eligible to apply for a variance for the first time. Until now, a county had to have a population of fewer than 70,000 people and no new cases in three weeks to apply. These guidelines allowed 10 counties to open.
Phase 2 allows several businesses to open, including restaurants at 50 percent capacity, hair and nail salons and retail stores.
Phase 2 also allows gatherings of up to five people.
Counties cannot reopen until they apply for the exception and that application is approved by the state Department of Health.
Once a county is in phase two, businesses that are allowed to open must follow guidelines established by the DOH.
Guidelines for restaurants require hand sanitizer be available for staff and patrons, bar seating to remain closed and no table to have more than five people at it. Menus and condiments must also be single use.
Retail guidelines include things such as limiting the buildings to 30 percent capacity, having distance markers on the floor and performing routine cleaning and sanitizing.
In addition, both restaurants and stores must "screen employees for signs/symptoms of COVID-19 at start of shift." If an employee is sick, management must send them home.
Douglas LeBar, owner of Cheney’s The Mason Jar and The Jar as well as Cheney Merchants Association secretary, said they have been watching developments closely as the state moves closer to reopening. The association has been taking calls and trying to advise local business owners on a one-on-one basis on how best to proceed.
“Obviously, we’d be more than excited to move to Phase 2, the earlier the better,” LeBar said.
LeBar said several Cheney businesses had contemplated opening earlier in defiance of the state’s orders, but were persuaded not to after receiving legal counsel. While businesses wouldn’t likely be shut down by law enforcement, he added there were other legal avenues of enforcement that could be enacted from fines to loss of licenses.
And when it comes to Cheney business success, LeBar said there is another more applicable issue – Eastern Washington University.
“The biggest concern we’re hearing from people is Eastern not opening up (for students), which is a long-term concern,” he said.
Managing Editor John McCallum contributed to this story.
Jeremy Burnham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.