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State hospitality association urges Gov. Inslee to reconsider restrictions on restaurants

Bartender Elliot Robinson mixes drinks in this July 2020 photo at the Osprey Restaurant & Bar at Ruby River Hotel on Division. The Washington State Hospitality Association said Tuesday that 121 restaurants in Spokane County have already closed.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Bartender Elliot Robinson mixes drinks in this July 2020 photo at the Osprey Restaurant & Bar at Ruby River Hotel on Division. The Washington State Hospitality Association said Tuesday that 121 restaurants in Spokane County have already closed. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

The Washington State Hospitality Association is urging Gov. Jay Inslee to reconsider a four-week extension of a statewide mandate that restricts indoor service at bars and restaurants, fearing it could result in thousands of additional business closures.

Inslee on Tuesday extended the state’s COVID-19 restrictions through Jan. 4 that limits restaurants to takeout service and limited outdoor dining to five customers or fewer at a table, among other things.

Some 121 restaurants have permanently closed in Spokane County, according to the association.

Washington State Hospitality Association CEO Anthony Anton called the Inslee’s announcement “disappointing and anger inducing.” He said restaurants – which have been shut down for indoor dining since mid-November – are not a primary contributor to a recent uptick in COVID-19 cases in the state.

“This has come at the worst time, which is supposed to be our most joyous time of the year,” Anton said. “For many restaurants, holidays is the time where you are able to earn the revenue, support your employees, provide the bonuses, provide your customers with joy and then we get through the winter months.

“That is now all gone with today’s announcements.”

The hospitality industry has gone “above and beyond” to adopt safety regulations amid the pandemic, Anton said.

Private gatherings appear to be driving COVID-19 case counts and public health data shows restaurants account for fewer than 1% of cases in the state, he said.

The state’s COVID-19 outbreak report, which is published weekly by the Department of Health, lists 188 outbreaks at restaurants since the pandemic’s onset in March. Four outbreaks were reported during the week ending Nov. 28.

The association reports nearly 3,000 restaurants – most of which are independently-owned – have permanently closed in the state this year due to the pandemic and it predicts closures of an estimated 3,000 additional establishments without state or federal relief.

Anton said while the state’s $50 million economic relief package announced Tuesday is a “good start,” it’s not enough. The extension of statewide restrictions through January could cost restaurants $600 to $800 million on top of $800 million in losses the association predicted in November.

The association – in addition to urging Gov. Inslee to reconsider restaurant restrictions – is asking Legislators to begin discussions on how to save the state’s restaurants.

“Now that we know we’re closed for the rest of the year, the amount of relief needs to be as extreme as the amount of damage that has been occurring and been put on this industry,” Anton said. “And there’s still not enough support for the 100,000 employees who are out of job during these holidays.”

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