Following Phase II rules limits operations
They’re back in business, but not back to normal.
Many hair salons, retail stores, and personal-care establishments have opened their doors to the public, now that Washington approved Okanogan County’s application to move to Phase II in the COVID recovery process on Friday (June 5).
Devin Barnhart gave her first haircut in almost three months at 8 a.m. on Monday (June 8). But Trimline & Co. Salon in Twisp looks a little different. Barnhart hung clear plastic shower curtains between every station, draped sheets over a stack of overturned sofas, and bought disposable face masks for clients that don’t get in the way of cutting hair.
“You can’t deny the infection rate is growing, particularly in this part of the county… I want to find a way to open without putting my customers and employees at risk.”
Carlos J. Pérez, owner, Carlos1800 Mexican Grill & Cantina
Nectar Skin Bar & Boutique in Winthrop began offering its full menu of facials, massages, and waxing again this week. Aestheticians are wearing face shields and checking the temperature of all employees and clients, owner Heidi Sullivan said.
After a two-month closure, Three-Fingered Jack’s Saloon in Winthrop started offering take-out last week and will launch dine-in service on Thursday (June 11) — for half the tables. “We have been issued very specific guidelines from the county health department as well as the governor’s office regarding distancing between tables, cleaning procedures, services available to guests, as well as training for staff,” owner Seth Miles said by email.
But others are waiting it out. At Carlos1800 Mexican Grill & Cantina, owner Carlos J. Pérez is still evaluating the situation at his Winthrop restaurant, which seats 280 people in multiple spaces.
With such a big space, Pérez wants to take his time. Guidelines drafted by people behind a desk — who don’t know each restaurant’s layout and needs — aren’t adequate, he said. “We have to re-invent ourselves,” he said.
Case count rises
In the past week, Okanogan County recorded 16 new cases of COVID-19, going from 50 on June 1 to 67 on June 8. The majority of the new cases are in the south county (Pateros to Malott), which now has more than half of the county’s total, at 35 confirmed cases. A few new cases were confirmed in the central valley (Malott to Riverside).
The case count has remained at five in the Methow Valley since April 13, at 11 on the Colville Indian Reservation since April 28, and at three in the north county (Riverside to Oroville) since May 14. Two people in the county have died from the disease.
“You can’t deny the infection rate is growing, particularly in this part of the county,” he said. “I want to see how things are going. I want to find a way to open without putting my customers and employees at risk.”
“We’ll definitely re-open, but with a different, orderly approach,” he said. “Lots of customers will expect it to be like nothing happened and won’t understand.”
Hometown Pizza in Twisp has been doing a brisk take-out business for the past two months and will stick with take-out for now. “We’re not going to jump through all the hoops of the different phases,” co-owner Katie Desjardins said. They plan to re-evaluate in a few months.
For some businesses, instituting new practices was straightforward. “We were ready as soon as we got the official word. It’s pretty simple, since we’re a husband and wife, with no employees,” said Greg Wright, who owns The Iron Horse in Winthrop with his wife, Misuk Ko. They marked 6-foot intervals on the floor and are keeping occupancy to 15.
It took two applications and two weeks before the state secretary of health was satisfied that Okanogan County has the resources to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission and handle existing cases.
Although the county has continued to record more new COVID cases than the target (25 over a two-week period, based on population), new state guidelines also take other measures into account. The secretary of health determined that the county’s ability to follow up with anyone who may have been exposed to the virus and the capacity of local hospitals are adequate.
Now that the county is in Phase II, the guidelines for businesses are much clearer, Wright said. “Before that, there was a lot of guesswork and no uniform requirements,” he said.
“It’s very difficult for a government agency to say, “These are the rules,’ if there’s no enforcement,” Wright said. He welcomes the clear directive from the state that all employees who interact with the public must wear a mask. In a town like Winthrop that depends on tourism, it’s important to have a unified approach, Wright said.
While the long closure has been a financial drain, some businesses used the time to set up online sales. But for proprietors — particularly those who provide hands-on services — eager to make up for almost three months with little or no income, the Phase II restrictions undeniably limit business volume.
Barnhart diligently researched guidelines from the Washington Department of Health, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the state cosmetology board. But the guidelines aren’t uniform, she said. Some say you can open at half capacity, while others set the maximum at 10 people, including stylists and customers. Five stylists share the space.
Because hair salons and other personal-service providers have to allow extra time between clients to clean, they can’t schedule as many appointments in a day. Barnhart can no longer do a haircut while another client is under the dryer for hair coloring. “I’ll make half the money for twice the effort,” she said.
Carlos1800’s Pérez said he’s an optimist. “As long as we’re decisive and take precautions, and don’t act like nothing happened,” things will be fine, he said. “But how do you control somebody who doesn’t believe there’s a risk?”
“I think we’ll come out stronger. This valley has strong people,” he said.
Phase II guidelines
In addition to hair salons, restaurants and retail, Phase II in Washington’s Safe Start plan allows people to engage in outdoor recreation with up to five people outside their household each week. Businesses including real estate, pet grooming and manufacturing can also open.
Some of Okanogan County’s neighbors are still in Phase I, including Chelan and Douglas (both have pending applications to move to Phase II), but Ferry and Lincoln have advanced to Phase III. Statewide as of June 8, six counties are still in Phase I, 25 are in Phase II, and eight are in Phase III. A county has to spend at least three weeks in its current phase before progressing to the next one.
Under the state’s rules for Phase II, restaurants can offer in-person dining up to 50% of their capacity. Tables must be at least 6 feet apart, and there is no bar seating. Menus can be used only once.
A requirement for restaurants and other businesses to keep a log of customers’ names and contact information — so they can be reached if they may have been exposed to COVID-19 — has been revised by the state. Providing the information is voluntary.
Retail outlets have to limit customers to 30% of capacity and manage traffic to keep people from coming into close contact. Any garments that someone tries on but doesn’t buy must be set aside for at least 24 hours.
Personal services — including hair stylists, nail salon workers and aestheticians — are to be kept at 50% of capacity. Providers must wear appropriate protective gear. Salons must be set up with barriers or other means to ensure social distance and clients have to wait outside.