Restaurants can open now that Island County moved to Phase 2

Restaurants in Island County will finally be able to serve food indoors, albeit with restrictions.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday that the North Region, of which Island County is a part, is among those that are allowed to move to the second of the two phases prescribed in the COVID-19 Roadmap to Recovery plan.

Only the South Central region — which includes Benton, Franklin, Columbia, Kittitas, Walla Walla and Yakima counties — will remain in the first and more restrictive phase.

Island County officials had been critical of the plan and the fact that the county was previously held back from advancing because it was lumped in with Skagit, San Juan and Whatcom counties.

Island County Commissioner Jill Johnson said she is thankful that the county moved to the next phase.

“We’ve been there for awhile,” she said, “but it’s good to have the governor acknowledge that.”

The phases are determined by four metrics that look at changes in numbers of new COVID-19 cases, hospital admissions, ICU occupancy and positive COVID tests.

The North Region had decreasing or low trends in all of the categories in the last two weeks, according to the state Department of Health. Inslee had changed the rule earlier this month, allowing regions to advance if they met just three of the metrics.

On Tuesday, Don Mason, COVID response manager, said the county had 32 new cases in the previous week and 59 new cases the week before that.

At the meeting, Commissioner Janet St. Clair pointed out that less than 4 percent of COVID cases are traced to restaurants. Johnson pointed out that some restaurants are reopening already and question what would happen if the county independently announced it was in the second phase.

Members of Island County’s Council of Government held a special meeting last week to speak with a representative of the governor’s office about the regional phasing plan and write a letter of protest to Inslee. The council is made up of county commissioners, the mayors of each municipality in the county and a representative of each port district.

Officials pointed out problems they see with the phasing plan and argued it was neither fair nor rational for Island County to be in Phase 1. Island County had been in Phase 3 under a previous reopening plan, but then the entire state was moved back to the first phase as case numbers jumped in mid-November.

Officials at the governor’s office responded to the letter by saying they weren’t going to revisit the phasing plan.

The reopening plan currently doesn’t have phases beyond the second, but health officials said earlier that they might be added in the future.

For those counties in the second phase, restaurants can bring back indoor service at 25 percent capacity through 11 p.m. Indoor fitness centers and live entertainment venues can also open up at 25 percent capacity. Establishments that only serve alcohol and no food have to remain closed.