County officials: King County could be in Phase 2 as soon as Friday

SEATTLE -- King County could soon be headed into Phase 2 of the state's reopening plan, meaning more businesses could double their capacity.

For example, restaurants could operate at 50% capacity, where as now under Phase 1.5, they can only operate at 25%.

This comes after a meeting with King County Council and public health that ended in all parties agreeing to submit the application for Phase 2, but there's still some uncertainty and questions about the county's next step.

Public health officials said King County has come a long way in the last few months, starting out as the original epicenter of COVID-19 in the United States. Officials also said they're confident the state is ready for Phase 2, especially going from 1.5, with minimal new coronavirus cases.

"So far, so good. We have not seen a major uptick in people showing symptoms or getting tested or testing positive, and so we have actually leveled out in terms of our numbers, perhaps not quite as low as would like to see them, but that leveling out has happened," said King County Deputy Executive Rachel Smith.

Smith said the county's health care system is now well prepared to care for COVID patients. She says hospitalizations are down and testing is up.

But Smith stressed that moving forward doesn't mean COVID isn't a concern; the very cautious behavior that helped get us to this point of readiness must continue.

"We have to double-down on that now. The more activity that is happening, the more cautious we need to be," Smith noted.

Caution is something restaurant owner Mike Vu has thought a lot about as he works for public health, in addition to running Seattle eatery and bar Kaname Izakaya.

"I'm worried about my parents, as they're in the older more vulnerable population," said Vu.

Vu's restaurant doors have been closed since March of this year. Though he could reopen now under Phase 1.5 guidelines, he's opting to wait until Phase 3, when state guidelines will permit bars like his to reopen at 25% capacity.

"Phase 2 still wont be able to get us to where we need to meet profits, to be able to pay our employees," said Vu.

He said even if the county jumped into Phase 3 right now, he thinks he'd still hold off to reopen until numbers are lower.

"In most states that opened too quickly they're starting to see a resurgence of COVID-19 in their population. The biggest thing for me as a business owner is my customers and employees are happy and healthy and they're not going to get sick."

But what about a business owner in an area of King County that's been relatively untouched by the virus?

Seattle has had over 2,000 COVID cases in the last several months, where as the small city of North Bend has had just 18.

Case count was a priority topic strongly discussed at Monday's King County Board of Health meeting.

"My blood pressure is going up. Let's just say that I am emotionally being impacted by people calling me saying, 'I'm losing everything I ever had in my life and in another three weeks, I will have lost it all,'" said council member Kathy Lambert.

Lambert discussed how unfair it feels for people in her district -- comprised of Duvall, North Bend, Fall City, and Snoqualmie -- to operate under the same rules as the rest of King County.

"We're not a big city, we're not Seattle, so I absolutely think we should be separated out," said Duvall hairdresser Shawna Mock.

Mock is relieved to be able to see clients again, but she agrees with Council Member Lambert that Phase 1.5 and 2 are frustrating for small areas of the county that have never had any bad outbreaks. Duvall, for example, has had only 21 positive cases since the outbreak of the coronavirus.

Mock said knowing some businesses may not be able to hold out for Phase 3 or 4 is heartbreaking.

"All of us business owners have children in the community. We are on baseball teams, we all know each other. The restaurants we go to, we know them personally. We've been to their homes. This is not a big city, this is a close-knit community. They're not just some restaurant, or gift store or salon. "