As COVID cases rise, businesses respond to new state restrictions

As COVID-19 case numbers continue to increase sharply across the county and state, Whidbey Island has also been experiencing an escalation of the virus.

At the same time, businesses on Whidbey will once again have to adjust to new statewide restrictions that shut down inside service in bars and restaurants, prohibit social gatherings and restrict many other indoor operations.

Gov, Jay Inslee announced the temporary rules Sunday. Most of them went into effect after midnight Monday. The restrictions affecting restaurants will begin after midnight Wednesday.

As of Monday, Island County has 501 cases. This is an increase of 62 cases in one week, which means the county is far from meeting its goal of 25 cases per 100,000.

Island County Public Health Director Keith Higman said there are currently no outbreaks being investigated within the county.

The most common route of transmission of the virus has been people attending social gatherings with others outside of their household, he said.

The new restrictions don’t just affect businesses. They prohibit indoor social gatherings with people outside of a single household and limit outdoor gatherings to five people outside of a household.

Religious ceremonies are limited to 25 percent capacity inside or no more than 200 people, whichever is fewer.

Weddings and funerals must have no more than 30 people in attendance. Long-term care facilities can have outdoor visitors only, with exceptions for essential support and end-of-life care.

Restaurants and bars are closed to indoor service but can still have outdoor dining and take-out. Retail businesses must limit capacity to 25 percent occupancy.

Movie theaters (not including drive-ins), bowling alleys, gyms, museums, zoos and aquariums are all required to cease indoor operations, meaning many will be closing.

The governor’s order went into effect this week and will expire Dec. 14, although county public health officials are predicting that the order will most likely be extended further into the holiday season.

Higman said one suggestion has been made that the governor’s restrictions should be extended until after the holiday season in January.

Whidbey businesses are again pivoting to adhere to the restrictions.

Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Vicki Graham said the new restrictions will have a financial impact, but that local business owners will be thinking “outside of the box” as they have been doing all year.

“We know they’re going to continue with their take-out,” she said about restaurant owners.

“We have already reached out to our restaurant members to ask them if they’re changing their hours or doing something different.”

Despite the challenges of this year, businesses in Coupeville have done well and avoided closures. Lynda Eccles, the executive director for the Coupeville Chamber of Commerce, said the restaurants have been doing well with their to-go menus.

“We are also making adjustments to our virtual shopping website to support our businesses and restaurants in any way we can,” Eccles said.

Inge Morascini, executive director for the Langley Chamber of Commerce, said the restaurants are “pretty well set.”

Most of them have covered outdoor seating thanks to the tents which were paid for by the Whidbey Island Association of Realtors.

They will also continue serving take-out meals.

Retail businesses will be exploring the use of QR codes in shop windows, curbside and home deliveries, she added.

The three chambers are in the process of creating “shop local” campaigns for the holiday season.

WhidbeyHealth has been taking its own measures to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. According to a press release, the West Wind Cafe is only open to employees and patients and the hospital’s gift shop is closed to all but is offering “curbside pick-up” services.

No visitors or support persons are allowed for the emergency department, surgical services, MAC, rehab services, respiratory therapy, lab, diagnostic imaging or primary care, specialty care or walk-in clinics.

The medical/surgical inpatient department, the intensive care unit and the family birth place are not allowing visitors, but one support person is acceptable.

Minors are able to have one support person during treatments. Certified doulas are also able to be present during a birth.