Melissa Lane, left, and her husband Jeff Lane have beer while waiting for pizza in the outdoor seating area of Bron Yr Aur Brewing on Saturday, July 18, 2020, in Naches, Wash.

Yakima County restaurants and churches may welcome some indoor guests and small fitness classes may begin meeting outside as part of updated coronavirus guidelines approved by state officials.

The changes take effect Thursday, and were announced at the end of the Yakima Health District‘s regular monthly meeting Wednesday morning. Ryan Ibach, chief operating officer for the health district, outlined the approved changes to Yakima County’s Roadmap to Recovery after Andre Fresco, the executive director, shared the good news.

“We’ve just received information from the state ... that there’s been an approved change to modified Phase 1,” Fresco said, mentioning later that officials had nothing definite before the meeting. “We’ve been in discussions with the state. Our numbers have decreased.”

Though Yakima County public health officials received approval from the state Department of Health to allow additional business, social and recreational activities, it remains in a modified Phase 1 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s four-phase Safe Start plan to reopen the state as the coronavirus pandemic continues. Inslee has halted any counties advancing phases because of case counts statewide.

In a briefing with reporters Thursday, state Department of Health Secretary John Wiesman said moving forward all counties in modified Phase 1 would have the same level of activities. Along with Yakima they are Benton, Franklin, Chelan and Douglas counties.

“We’re now trying to keep everyone on the same track to avoid the confusion out there,” he said.

Starting Thursday, additional services allowed are:

  • Restaurants, taverns, breweries, wineries and distilleries: May open to indoor guests at 25% capacity as determined by fire code, using Phase 2 guidance. Previously, only outdoor seating was allowed.
  • Churches: May host indoor services at 25% capacity or 50 people, whichever is less, following Phase 2 guidance. Along with a limited number of indoor guests, churches may host outdoor services with up to 200 people. That’s an increase from the 100 people previously allowed for outdoor services.
  • Fitness: Outdoor group fitness classes may begin meeting. They’re limited to five people per class, not including the instructor. Social distancing must be practiced.
  • Social gatherings: Allowed outdoors and limited to five or fewer people from outside of the household, once per week. Physical distancing should be maintained.
  • Shopping: Retail stores may expand capacity slightly, from 25 to 30%.

Construction and manufacturing operations remain under Phase 2 guidelines. Real estate may now follow Phase 2 guidelines, with 25% occupancy, Ibach said.

Professional services will be under Phase 2 guidelines of 25% capacity and a limit of 30 minutes per customer.

Professional photography and in-house domestic services move to Phase 2 guidelines, which are what restaurants, taverns, breweries, wineries and distilleries will be following. They’ve been offering outdoor service, which is not limited as long as social distancing is practiced, Ibach said.

Drive-in movie theaters may now follow Phase 2 guidance, which allows for walk-up concession stands with proper masking and distancing. In other changes, team gymnastics and outdoor card rooms are also allowed Phase 2 guidance. Outdoor card rooms in designated areas are limited to 50 people.

Full guidance for these activities is available on the Safe Start Yakima website, according to a news release.

“Our plan will be to work with our partners; this is a very tight deadline,” Fresco said. “We will make certain that our partners and advocates for local business in the community are familiar with this. We’ll ... have staff available to answer phones.”

All businesses must sign a business pledge stating they will follow all COVID-19 guidance and submit a plan to the Greater Yakima Chamber of Commerce before opening.

Restaurants and churches that previously filled out the pledge must update their plan and pledge in accordance with the new guidance, the release said.

“We have to remain diligent because we’re moving into a different area of indoor activities,” Fresco said. “It’s very important we do not have additional cases.”

Additional changes going forward will be done with much thought, Wiesman said, but the priority is get new COVID-19 cases down to the point where children statewide could return to in-person school instruction.

“We’re not looking now to add activities, but rather stabilize and get rates down,” he said.

Improving trends

Fresco said Yakima County continues to see decreasing numbers of confirmed cases of COVID-19, hospitalizations due to COVID-19 and intubations.

Dr. Teresa Everson, county health officer, highlighted some of those numbers in her presentation.

“As of (Tuesday), we had zero patients on a ventilator because of COVID-19 infection. That’s an enormous success. We had 15 patients in the hospital, compared to 33 at our last board of health meeting,” said Everson, adding the peak in early June was 61, and that number doesn’t include transfers to other hospitals.

Yakima County has been averaging just under 30 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 per day in the past week, she added. Though she and others want to see more COVID-19 testing, almost 60,000 tests have been administered so far.

Everson also reported 96% of people seen entering businesses during the last facial covering survey wore masks — 98% of the women and 94% of men.

Yakima County hospitalizations were reported at about 71% of capacity at the previous health board meeting, she said. That’s dropped to 53% capacity. Two months ago, 19% of hospitalizations were due to COVID-19. It has decreased to 5.3%, she said.

The rate of cases per 100,000 over two weeks has also continued to decline. The peak was just under 700; the most recent calculation is just under 200 cases per 100,000 for two weeks, Everson said.

Moving forward into Phase 2 requires that number drop to 25 cases per 100,000 every 14 days, she said. For Yakima County’s population, the target is under 63. That will take more work and people must continue to strictly follow the public health recommendations to ultimately open up schools and the broader community.

“We do have a ways to go but we’re still making progress,” she said. “We are headed in the right direction.”

Reporter Mai Hoang contributed to this story.

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