The loosening of restrictions will allow a small amount of indoor capacity for restaurants, gyms
Marysville and Arlington are a part of one of the two regions moving to Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s "Healthy Washington - Roadmap to Recovery" reopening plan.
Snohomish County is grouped with King and Pierce counties in the "Puget Sound Region," which has received approval to move to the next step of reopening which will allow for some minor relaxing of current restrictions.
The restrictions were slated to officially relax on Feb. 1.
Indoor social gatherings of no more than five people from outside the household and outdoor gatherings of no more than 15 people are now allowed, although face mask and physical distancing rules still apply.
Restaurants can now open indoor dining at 25 percent capacity, with a maximum of six people per table.
Fitness, recreation and training businesses can now also open at 25 percent capacity.
In those businesses, low- and moderate-risk sports competitions are permitted with high-risk sports permitted outside only.
Since Inslee announced the plan in early January, he has changed the requirements so that regions only have to meet three of four requirements to move from Phase 1 to Phase 2.
Regions are meant to have decreasing COVID-19 case rates. From late December to early January the Puget Sound region saw a 4 percent increase in cases.
The trend for hospitalizations is also supposed to go down, which the Puget Sound Region saw a decrease of 16 percent.
The third requirement is less than 90 percent occupancy of ICU beds. From Jan. 17 to Jan. 23 the Puget Sound Region had 84 percent occupancy.
The final requirement was a less than 10 percent positive COVID test rate, which the region barely hit with a 9 percent positive test rate.
The Puget Sound Region will have to continue hitting at least three of those four benchmarks if it is to remain in Phase 2 or advance further in the reopening.
Local business owners said the new 25 percent capacity doesn’t provide that much of an impact.
“I don’t think that’s really going to affect my business much,” said Jeff Knoch, owner of Jeff’s Texas Style BBQ in Marysville.
Knoch said it will mainly help people who travel from further away be able to stop in his restaurant.
Carlton Doup, owner of Kung Fu 4 Kids in Marysville, also said his business needs more than 25 percent to meet their financial obligations.
“Now, with 25 percent capacity on Monday [Feb. 1], even if we were to fill every classroom that wouldn’t even be enough to cover our expenses,” he said.
Local business owners have differing opinions on the restrictions.
“I’m torn on this issue personally,” said Knoch. “I want my customers and employees to be as safe as possible."
Knoch said he does want his customers to be able to eat at his restaurant again, but understands that’s not safe right now.
“It does pain me to see customers get the takeout and leave,” he said.
The fitness industry and gyms have been one of the hardest hit industries, said Doup.
“I think the restrictions in general, especially how it has affected the fitness industry, have been mismanaged from the beginning,” he said.
He pointed to studies, such as one from the University of Oregon’s Oregon Consulting Group, that looked at COVID-19’s spread in gyms versus other industries in Colorado and concluded that fitness centers had lower transmissions than other industries.
That study did not conclude that gyms were safe, but it did say that the data they looked at showed lower transmission of COVID-19 in gyms.
“The cleaning procedures we already had in place we’re above the recommendations from the CDC,” and they have increased those standards since last March, said Doup.
“Like most gyms, we have a more advanced air filtration system already in place. We have to, otherwise the place will stink,” he said.
Doup said he didn’t want to speculate whether other industry’s restrictions were necessary as he didn’t know them as well.
“I think there was a lot done [against gyms] for appearances sake. There’s a perception that because you get in one of these places and everyone’s breathing heavy that it is unsafe,” he said.
Because of those restrictions, Doup said he has had to make layoffs and their income has been down 70 to 80 percent during some months.
“We’ve survived, largely because of grants and the payroll protection loans,” he said. “I believe we will get through it,” however he believes the business will have a large debt to the federal government in the end.
Knoch’s restaurant has also had to reduce hours and is now open only during its three busiest days of the week.
“Unfortunately that has meant we have had to reduce our labor force,” he said.
The local restaurant is still making a slim profit though with the changes, he said.
“I’m very much a proponent of everyone staying bunkered down and following the CDC guidelines so we can get back to normal,” he said. “I hope everyone stays safe. I hope they take care of themselves. We can protect our loved ones by doing the best we can to keep safe,” he said.