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On Tuesday, Washington Democrat Governor Jay Inslee announced a re-opening plan for the state that promptly extended a statewide ban on indoor dining as well as gyms and fitness centers. Washington Hospitality Association CEO Anthony Anton called the new reopening plan, "a roadmap to a near-complete collapse."
Inslee announced what is called "Healthy Washington–Roadmap to Recovery," but it does not actually re-open anything, rather it extends restrictions. It extended restrictions on indoor dining, gyms and indoor gatherings that were due to expire on January 11. The restrictions, initially implemented in mid-November, were set to expire on Dec. 14 but were pushed off due to Inslee's concerns of the virus spreading over the holidays.
Anton said in a statement, "We know that the increase in cases over the last two months is due to private social behavior–not restaurants. In fact, restaurants provide a place with effective protections that allow people to gather safety, but not while we're closed."
Anton said despite the closures, he has seen cases skyrocket. He claimed that the rising cases are due to people hosting private events at their homes.
"When we were shut down again two months ago, I made a prediction that cases would continue to rise because people would host private social gatherings through the holidays. Unfortunately, I was right. On November 15 when the governor announced he was closing restaurants again, we had 1,578 cases. On New Year's Eve, before the parties began, we had 4,200 cases. We’re now in a third, rebranded shutdown that also will not work."
The Washington Hospitality Association conducted a survey recently which showed that over 2,000 restaurants have closed in Washington since the initial restrictions in March. Of those closures, 624 were in Seattle alone. Hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians will likely be out of work.
Anton's statement hinted at legal challenges even though the association had previously been working with the Governor's office. "As other states have fought these orders in the courts and organized opening protest, we have done everything we can to work with the governor’s office, but this latest announcement leaves us at a loss for what to do next and makes it clear that we are running out of time."
Inslee's plan, is similar to California's failing regional approach to the virus, and will allow designated regions of counties in the state, to reopen when they meet certain metrics around hospitalization and case data.
Under Inslee's new reopening plan, there will only be two phases of reopening to start, and the state claims it will add more as the situation improves, similar to the Phased Opening approach which was abandoned this summer
All counties will be grouped into eight regions in Phase 1. To progress to Phase 2, the region must meet the following goals, a 10 percent decreasing trend in case rates and in coronavirus hospital admission rates, ICU occupancy less than 90 percent and test positivity rate less than 10 percent.
Phase 2 will allow indoor dining and fitness centers at 25 percent capacity, increased wedding and funeral capacity and sports with limited spectators.
Anton called out the slow rollout of the vaccine in Washington and laid the blame directly on Inslee. "At the last shutdown, we had no vaccine. Now that we do, we believe the governor must answer: What is the timeline for rolling out the vaccine, who is next in line, and what is this determination based upon? When is herd immunity expected? What is the detailed, long-range plan to support economic activity until herd immunity is achieved? And what is the plan for keeping Main Street from collapsing until that day arrives?"
Anton's hard hitting statement also discussed the realities of the situation in the state. "It is clear the public is growing tired of ten months restrictions and that public support of ongoing restrictions with no discrete end date is fading fast. Despite the Governor's travel advisory, Christmas weekend saw the highest airport traffic since the pandemic began. Public fatigue is weakening the effectiveness of the restrictions but isn’t diminishing the harm."
The statement concluded by once again calling out Inslee’s lack of support for struggling businesses during the restrictions he imposed
"To date, our industry has only seen what amounts to a million-dollar band-aid to a billion-dollar problem that we did not cause and that we haven’t made worse. It's simply not enough for our increasingly desperate members."