SPOKANE, Wash. — After requests from Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward and others, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is allowing indoor dining at restaurants in time for Valentine's Day.
Inslee decided to allow Phase 2 of reopening for the East region, and four other regions, to begin Sunday, Feb. 14, a day earlier than originally slated.
The region met three out of four "Healthy Washington" metrics, including a decrease in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations over two weeks per 100,000 people and a decreasing trend in ICU occupancy over one week.
Phase 2 allows a handful of businesses in Eastern Washington to reopen at limited capacity, including restaurants for indoor dining and fitness centers. Wedding receptions are also allowed in Phase 2, with some restrictions in place.
Woodward tweeted a message to Governor Inslee about his decision.
"This is great news Governor Inslee. Eastern Washington thanks you," she said in the tweet.
She had previously tweeted at him asking to move Phase 2 up to Sunday.
"Can you show some love to our struggling restaurants by allowing them to open this weekend for Valentine’s Day?" Woodward wrote in a tweet directed at Inslee. "Business in this industry drops like a rock after the holiday and they could really use the extra help. THANK YOU!"
Inslee said during his press conference on Thursday that he would consider allowing restaurants to reopen for Valentine's Day but did not give a definitive answer.
Woodward also issued the following statement on Thursday about the East region advancing to Phase 2:
"Today is really about the community and the commitment our region has made to putting public health first. Our region has done a tremendous amount of selfless work to put us in a position to advance. That includes many, many businesses that have struggled, sacrificed, and carefully followed the public health guidance for the benefit of others.
This is exciting news for us to take the next step in our road to recovery. Advancing means we can be begin to safely enjoy more of the businesses and leisure activities we have been missing. It also comes with a reminder that we have to continue doing the things that keep the case count and healthcare burden trending downward. Please continue wearing your mask, social distancing, limiting gatherings, and supporting businesses as they follow the guidance. These are the habits that will get us past the pandemic.”
Washington State Representative Marcus Riccelli (D-Spokane), who represents the state's 3rd Legislative District, originally spoke with KREM before Inslee made the decision to move the Phase 2 start date up to Valentine's Day.
"Well, look, I've continually said that public health should lead in the COVID crisis. But, I've also been advocating for the businesses in this community and for the economic health and vitality for Spokane, because one size doesn't fit all," he said. "I think given the data reflecting the past and present COVID-19 status in in Spokane, this makes all the sense in the world."
Riccelli said he then spoke with Inslee's staff to ask the governor to move the start date up to Sunday.
"I think the conversation was really well received with the governor's staff. I've been working with them on a lot of different policy bills, and I just said, 'I think, you know, for moving ahead on Monday, this could be a real win win for everybody just to push it back a day.' And it's, it's not a lot for a lot of struggling restaurants, but it is something that is a glimmer of hope, and we want to be we want to be moving in the direction of hope," Riccelli said.
Spokane County Board of Commissioners Chair Josh Kerns released a statement on Thursday afternoon calling the announcement "positive news."
“Throughout the Eastern Region of Washington State, we have done our part to effectively respond to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Governor Inslee and the Department of Health have recognized the effort we’ve put into keeping our population safe while effectively restarting our economy," his statement reads. "While entering into Phase 2 is positive news, we must allow our citizens to return to work and combat the mental health impacts of this shutdown by letting our struggling small businesses safely reopen at a quicker pace. We can do this while also remaining diligent in keeping our COVID-19 numbers down. I call on Governor Inslee to release details of the next phase for his “Healthy Washington Plan” immediately so that we can safely reopen more of Washington’s economy.”
Fellow Spokane County Commissioner Al French also released a statement, calling the move "welcomed."
“I want to thank the thousands of citizens that have worked so hard to meet the metrics established in Olympia so that we can start to re-open up our community, open our businesses and getting our lives back to normal. This last year has taken a heavy toll on us all but some more than others," French said. "While this movement to Phase 2 is welcomed, it is just the next step to getting our lives back. We must continue to recognize the protocols to keep us safe and get everyone vaccinated. Thank you for your efforts and keep it up until we are through this.”
Spokane City Councilmember Michael Cathcart, who represents District 1, also reacted to the news on his Facebook page.
"This is long overdue. I'm grateful, however, that workers and employers in our community finally have some assurance that they can start to move forward. We must focus now as a city and region on a strong economic and employment recovery," Cathcart wrote in a Facebook post.
"I guess the question now is whether there will ever be a phase 3?" he added.
City Council President Breean Beggs also released a statement, saying the move was the result of hard work.
"The move to Phase 2 is a result of the hard work by our community and small business owners. Let's make our community even safer and move forward to Phase 3 by continuing these efforts," Beggs said.
Councilmember Betsy Wilkerson also reacted to the news, saying it was a "welcomed advancement."
"This is a very welcomed advancement that is significant to our emotional and mental health. I look to see how the community responds. We still have a long way to go to clear us of this global pandemic," Wilkerson said.
Another councilmember, Karen Stratton, also issued a statement, asking people to continue following health guidelines.
"Advancing our region releases a bit of economic pressure for those impacted. I urge our community to continue to practice social distancing, limited gatherings, and continue to wear your mask when in public spaces," Stratton said.
Local businesses also reacted to the news of being able to open indoor dining and entertainment for Valentine's Day.
Spokane Comedy Club General Manager Kim Goode said the club was excited and thankful for those who helped them get through the shutdowns.
"Oh completely. But honestly, we couldn’t be here without the community. I know that so many people have reached out, shown us so much love, supported us through these changes, and kind of stuck with us. So I guess we couldn’t be here without everyone," she said.
Bridge Press Cellars Co-owner Drew Padtra said they were excited to bring live music back to downtown Spokane.
"Yeah, we’re really excited," he said. "It's been nine months since we’ve had live music back. We had to lay off all of our staff. This gives us the opportunity to bring more employees back. Music is a huge part of Bridge Press. Myself personally, I’m a huge fan of music, so, it’s nice to bring that back. Bring joy back to people and really give a bunch of people a place to go now.”