"I want to thank everyone for their hard work to get us to this place," Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward said at a press conference Friday morning, May 22, noting that staying home and distancing had helped the community keep COVID-19 cases low enough to qualify for the next phase of reopening. "The progress we've made has to continue. This isn't the end, this is just the beginning."
Indeed, other county leaders at the conference including Spokane Valley Mayor Ben Wick, county commissioners Josh Kerns and Al French and Greater Spokane Incorporated CEO Alisha Benson all urged the community to continue following social distancing rules, washing their hands, wearing masks, and generally continuing the work to slow the virus so the economy could continue to reopen.
Wick urged people to follow the strict rules of this new phase and not skip ahead and violate the state's rules for reopening, lest that put the community at risk of another surge in cases and lost progress.
"By violating state guidance we are putting lives and livelihoods at risk," Wick said. "Not only could we not progress to the next phase, but we could also risk falling back to phase 1."
The leaders cheered the swift approval for the county to move onto the next phase of reopening, after the county submitted its updated application for a variance on Wednesday.
Many businesses that have had to remain closed until now have reached the breaking point, with some already forced to stay closed, Kerns noted.
"This has been an extinction-level event for many of our local businesses," Kerns said.
But while unemployment spiked in the county over the last two months, Kerns said he hoped to see a swift recovery to the gains made during 2019.
"When we started this year there were more people working in Spokane County than at any other time in history," Kerns said. "We hope to return to that."
The move to phase 2 will see the first return to in-restaurant dining and drinking in more than two months. Restaurants and taverns (here's more on which types of bars can reopen and when) will be able to seat at up to half capacity, with 6 feet between groups at different tables, no more than five people per table, and no seating at bar tops.
directive to the public to wear masks or cloth face coverings while in any public indoor space, and that would include while ordering in restaurants. While eating and drinking, the masks may be removed, but should be worn at all other times in public, confined spaces.
Under this phase, retail stores can also reopen with strict distancing guidelines. Stores can only have up to 30 percent of the occupancy of their building (excluding employees), should enforce distancing and have markers indicating 6 feet of distance for customers inside the store and waiting to enter the store, and increase cleaning. For clothing, if someone tries on an item and doesn't purchase it, that item is supposed to be held off the sales floor for 24 hours. Here's more on the state's retail guidance.
Hair and nail salons, tattoo shops, and other personal services can also reopen.
Woodward mentioned in Friday's press conference that moving to phase 2 today starts the clock to June 12 for the soonest possible move to phase 3.
"We are focused on maintaining the progress we’ve made to get us to phase 2, and then yes we’re looking ahead to phase 3, which will be at least three weeks," Woodward said.