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Spokane libraries will reopen, but likely not until early November

UPDATED: Thu., Oct. 8, 2020

Local libraries, like this South Hill branch, will reopen in the next few weeks after Gov. Inslee’s decision to ease COVID-19 restrictions at some public venues.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Local libraries, like this South Hill branch, will reopen in the next few weeks after Gov. Inslee’s decision to ease COVID-19 restrictions at some public venues. (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Spokane’s libraries are likely to open by early November albeit under strict pandemic guidelines announced this week by Gov. Jay Inslee.

The guidelines are included in four dense pages that outline what must happen before libraries can reopen, even at 25% capacity.

Local officials promised Thursday to go by the book, which means buildings probably won’t reopen until next month.

“We’re definitely excited to offer in-person service,” said Amanda Donovan, director of Marketing and Communications for Spokane Public Libraries.

“But the directive from the governor is that we need to have a very comprehensive plan that conforms to the requirements – and it’s a long document,” Donovan said.

The Spokane Public Library system closed its buildings on March 14. Since then, branches have offered curbside pickup for patrons who reserve materials online.

The system has made some preparations for reopening, Donovan said, but needs more time to comply with the rules.

“We’re hesitant to commit to a date at this time, but we’ll have one soon,” said Donovan, who added that managers were planning to meet Thursday afternoon.

It’s the same story at the Spokane County Library District, which also offers curbside pickup.

Each of its 11 branches has different layouts, which means a different approach to social distancing and other considerations.

“The lobbies, the flow of customers, it varies from library to library,” said Jane Baker, communications director for the district. “We need to go through each library in the meantime.”

While hesitant to offer a reopening date, Baker said it could happen “in the coming weeks.”

The reopening guidelines are detailed and stringent.

For all counties in Phase 2 of the state’s COVID-19 reopening plan, library occupancy – not counting employees – cannot exceed 25% of maximum determined by local fire officials. That would increase to 50% after Spokane County moves to Phase 3.

Patrons must wear face coverings at all times while inside the building, and must observe 6-foot social distancing requirements as they wait to enter.

Libraries also will be ordered to place distance markers outside and are encouraged – though not required – to assign an employee to enforce the rule.

Moreover, libraries are expected to mark high-traffic areas and place “conspicuous signage” to alert staff and customers on the COVID policies.

Customers will be encouraged to use self-checkout devices.

Use of group meeting spaces will be discouraged, with a limit of five people per space.

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