Washington's governor closes indoor service at bars, restricts indoor dining

By Lisa Baumann (AP)
Seattle July 24, 2020 3:15 p.m.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday he is tightening restrictions throughout the state in restaurants and bars, for weddings and funerals, and at gyms in a further effort to stem a surge in COVID-19 cases.

“I care about businesses opening and people getting back to work, but public health and economic activity go hand in hand,” Inslee said. “If we let this virus get even more out of control, it will have devastating effects on our health and on our economy.”


The rate of disease transmission has been increasing around the state with a spike in transmission among people in their 20s spreading into all age groups, he said.

The changes mostly affect indoor activities where the risk of virus exposure could be highest, officials said. For restaurants, indoor dining will be limited to members of the same household and alcohol service must end at 10 p.m. Bars, taverns, breweries, wineries and distilleries must close all indoor service, regardless of whether food is served, Inslee said. Those rules go into effect July 30.

Related: Read the latest coverage on coronavirus in the Northwest

Wedding ceremonies, both religious and secular, still will be allowed, while receptions will be prohibited. For all phases, the maximum indoor occupancy for weddings and funerals will be 20%, or up to 30 people, whichever is less, as long as 6 feet (1.8 meters) of distance can be maintained between households. Those changes also take effect July 30, but weddings and funerals within the next two weeks can take place under previous guidelines, Inslee said.

When it comes to fitness, Inslee said for counties in phase two, such as King County, only five people, not including staff, are allowed for indoor fitness services at a time. The restrictions include gyms, fitness studios, indoor pools, ice rinks, volleyball and tennis courts. Gyms in phase three counties must reduce occupancy to 25% and limit group fitness classes to 10 participants.

Businesses such as card rooms, bowling alleys and arcades now cannot open until phase four and indoor movie theater occupancy will be limited to 25% in phase three.


Related: Teachers unions in SW Washington call for classes to remain online in fall

Don Blakeney, Downtown Seattle Association vice president of Advocacy & Economic Development, said Thursday that public health must come first, but people also need to support small businesses as they continue to adapt to the changing landscape. And continued federal support will be needed, he said.

“We can’t afford to go backward,” he said.

Seattle bar owner Avout van der Werf said with Paycheck Protection Program money spent, savings exhausted, and unemployment for workers to run out, he “is facing the new grim reality that it wasn’t good enough and more needs to be done.”

Allowing businesses to immediately expand outdoor seating could be the only lifeline left for a lot of businesses at this point, van der Werf said.

Also Thursday, State Health Department Secretary John Wiesman expanded the face-covering mandate to include common spaces such as elevators and hallways in places such as apartment buildings, university housing, hotels and nursing homes. The new order takes effect on Saturday. A mandate is already in place requiring face coverings in public buildings and outdoors when 6 feet of space cannot be maintained.

“I know that many of us are tired and wish we could go back to the way we lived before the pandemic, but that is simply not the situation we are in right now,” Wiesman said.

The statewide eviction moratorium also will be extended again but details will come later, Inslee said.

“We do not take these steps lightly,” Inslee said. “We know every prohibition is a challenge for individuals and business owners. But we know that if we fail to act, we expose people and businesses to even greater risk down the line.”

With 766 additional COVID-19 cases reported Thursday, the state has surpassed 50,000 cases since the pandemic began. Nearly 1,500 people in Washington have died of complications from COVID-19.

For most, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. But for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.