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News / Business / Clark County Business

Clark County restaurateurs continue to wait as restrictions continue

It will be at least 2 weeks before they know if COVID metrics met

By Anthony Macuk, Columbian business reporter
Published: January 29, 2021, 6:05am

Clark County restaurant owners hoping for a return to indoor dining are going to have to wait at least another two weeks.

At a press conference Thursday, Gov. Jay Inslee announced that Washington’s Puget Sound and Western regions are now able to move to Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan, which allows for a limited resumption of indoor dining. The Southwest region, which includes Clark County, remains in Phase 1.

Inslee also announced that the metrics used to determine eligibility for Phase 2 will now be updated every two weeks rather than weekly, which means Clark County’s next shot at Phase 2 won’t come until Feb. 12.

Data from Clark County Public Health shows a decline in local case rates in the most recent week, but as of Thursday, the Southwest region had still only hit one of the four metrics for Phase 2 eligibility (Inslee announced Thursday that regions now only need to hit three metrics to advance, rather than all four).

The ongoing wait for Phase 2 has been painful for Clark County restaurant owners, many of whom say it’s impossible to make ends meet with only outdoor dining — especially during the winter.

“I have one location that I can have 75 people in (even with capacity restricted to 25 percent),” said Jason Fish, owner of Main Event Sports Grill in Vancouver. “Instead, I have to have them sitting outside in a tent. Two days ago, it snowed. Now I’m burning through propane at $500 a week. This in addition to me having to rent a tent right now, in addition to our normal rent, in addition to utilities.”

Restaurant owners statewide had also pinned their hopes on proposed legislation that would allow all of the state’s businesses to start operating under the Phase 2 rules, but Senate Bill 5114 has only made it as far as an initial hearing before the Senate Committee on Government and Elections.

Republican lawmakers made two attempts to advance the bill Wednesday — one motion for a vote in the committee and another motion during Senate debate to pull the bill back out of committee for consideration on the floor. Both efforts were unsuccessful.

Local restaurateurs said they had hoped the bill would pass based on the large amount of public support it received. More than 1,000 people signed up to testify at the committee hearing last week, the majority of whom were in support of the bill.

“We thought we were going to get a little more ground to work with, and it just didn’t happen,” said Bryan Shull, owner of Trap Door Brewing in Vancouver.

In a conference call Thursday afternoon, leaders of the Washington Hospitality Association called for businesses to be able to operate at 50 percent capacity, arguing that Washington’s restrictions are among the toughest in the country and are unaffordable for restaurants.

“The frustration of those that are closed are very high,” said association president Anthony Anton. “These three months that we’ve been closed, the average restaurant has been gathering $25,000 in debt (per month). So they’re looking at $75,000 in debt.”

During his press conference, Inslee responded to questions about the fairness of opening up some parts of the state ahead of others by stressing that the decisions are automatic and driven by the infection rate metrics. He said it’s up to the citizens of each region to be diligent about their use of safety precautions to drive the numbers down.

Inslee expressed sympathy for the plight of restaurant owners, but noted that Washington’s infection rate is lower than most other states in the country, which proves that the state’s approach is necessary and working as intended. The United States overall could have fewer deaths if it followed Washington’s example, he added.

“The kind of decisions we’ve made, difficult as they are, have saved thousands of lives,” he said.

Columbian business reporter