Jim Williams envisioned he would use the back lot he owned behind his taproom, the Public House of Yakima, for future expansion.
Now under COVID-19, the property will be put to a different use — additional outdoor seating.
Williams will start serving customers in the new seating area Monday after several months strictly as a takeout business.
“We’re ready,” Williams said.
Many businesses, including Williams’, were in preparation mode Friday as Yakima County entered Phase 1.5 of Safe Start Washington, the state’s four-phase coronavirus reopening plan.
Phase 1.5 allows for outdoor dining for restaurants, more construction and manufacturing and retail activity at limited levels. Hair salons, barbershops and pet groomers can also reopen with restrictions.
Several businesses interviewed Friday by the Yakima Herald-Republic said they were going to ease into reopening or expanding services.
While Williams had new outdoor seating ready at the Public House, he didn’t want to start serving customers until he went over safety guidelines with his staff.
Bron Yr Aur, a brewery and restaurant in Naches, will start to offer outdoor seating Thursday, July 9, said owner Mike Hatten.
The brewery continued offering takeout on Friday, he said.
Hatten said this would allow him plenty of time to work out details, including setting up outdoor furniture.
Hatten said he was eager for customers to visit. He had hoped Yakima County would reach Phase 2, which would allow indoor dining at 50% capacity.
“But this is better than nothing,” he said.
The health district submitted a plan to enter Phase 1.5, known as the county’s “road map to recovery” to the state Department of Health Thursday evening after approving it in an emergency meeting. The Yakima County Board of Commissioners approved the plan in a separate meeting Thursday.
As part of that plan, businesses will have to submit a plan and sign a pledge that they will follow safety guidelines under Phase 1.5. Once businesses submit the documents and post their safety plan at their location, they can reopen, said Verlynn Best, Greater Yakima Chamber of Commerce CEO.
“Once they get the doors open, we want to make sure they will stay open,” Best said.
Best said that the goal is for businesses to make a good faith effort to submit a plan. If any businesses opt to open sooner, they will be encouraged to submit the pledge and plan.
“We truly believe most people know what they need to do,” she said. “The regulations are there.”
The chamber isn’t in charge of enforcing the regulations, but is a partner working with health officials and local business.
Some people were still getting up to speed.
Jose Mejia, the owner of Prolific Studio, which offers haircuts and other personal grooming services in Yakima, started serving customers on Friday.
Mejia said that he had read the Yakima Health District’s safety guidelines for hair salons and barbers and had made sure he was abiding by those rules, he said.
To that end, Mejia opted to do all hair services himself and to provided additional times between appointments so he could sanitize and limit interaction between customers.
He did not realize he had to submit a safety plan or sign the pledge and learned of both when asked about them by the Yakima Herald-Republic.
But he said he wouldn’t hesitate to submit a plan and signed pledge or do whatever else that was required.
“The last thing I want to do is mess up on one small thing and close down again,” he said.
Jonathan Smith, executive director of the Yakima County Development Association, said it’s understandable if businesses aren’t 100% up on every aspect of regulations and guidelines under Phase 1.5 .
Smith said he’s worked with the Yakima chamber and other organizations on a toolkit that provides additional resources, such as photos showing office and store layouts that meet social distancing guidelines. The organizations, all part of a community task force to help businesses reopen, are also prepared to make visits and hold informational webinars in the coming days.
“We’re focused on helping businesses understand,” he said.
Getting businesses to abide by guidelines is essential for them to remain open, Best said.
Public health officials stressed Friday if cases start rising drastically again and hospitals are strained, Yakima County would be at risk of another shutdown. Best and Smith said that’s something no one wants, and it is a big incentive for businesses to follow the regulations.
Social gatherings outside the household remain prohibited under Phase 1.5, and public health officials urged people to refrain from gathering during the Fourth of July holiday.
“We have reached a momentous milestone today but are still in a very precarious situation with COVID-19 in our county, and we rely on all community members to continue to diligently practice public health recommendations to stop further spread,” said Dr. Teresa Everson, health officer at the Yakima Health District in the news release Friday. “We know that Independence Day is typically a day to gather with friends and family, but it is still dangerous to get together with people outside our immediate household.”
The health district added staff on Friday to answer questions about the changes from businesses. More information is available and guidelines for businesses is available on the health district’s website.
The state Department of Health worked with health officials in Yakima, Benton and Franklin counties, the three remaining counties still in Phase 1, to advance to Phase 1.5 this week in response to concerns of residents traveling to other less restrictive counties and potentially causing further spread of the virus. The change was paired with a statewide order that doesn’t allow businesses to serve people unless they are wearing a mask. That rule previously applied in Yakima County only.
In total, five counties are in Phase 1.5, 17 counties are in Phase 2 and 17 counties are in Phase 3. On Thursday, Gov. Jay Inslee and John Wiesman, Secretary for the state Department of Health, said counties would remain in their respective phases for at least two weeks. The pause was in response to in COVID-19 cases statewide. Yakima, Benton and Franklin were exempted from that pause to move to Phase 1.5.