Health officials to check restaurants, taverns for Phase 2 compliance

As the number of new COVID-19 infections continue to rise, health officials in King County have launched a new campaign to help restaurants and taverns stay open in the midst of a pandemic.

Restaurants and other businesses across the state were forced to adapt to a host of health and safety measures introduced in an effort to manage the spread of coronavirus.

On Friday, Public Health Seattle and King County expanded a program called SSTAR to make sure those businesses stay in compliance. While a business that repeatedly fails inspection could see its permit suspended, health officials insist their focus is educating business owners on proper procedures.

The dining room at Elliott Bay Public House and Brewery in Seattle’s Lake City neighborhood looks extra spacious during a pandemic.

“It’s disconcerting to look around a place this size and see every other table blocked off,” said manager Will Pearson.

Pearson said to tables had to be spread out to limit capacity and comply with a host of other requirements just to keep their doors open.

“I really struggle with the phrase back to normal because in a lot of ways this is the new normal,” he said.

That new normal means remaining in compliance with guidelines for businesses allowed to open in Phase 2.

It means health screenings are required for employees at the start of their shift, who also must wear face coverings, socially distance and stay clean. Rules for reduced seating capacity and eliminating bar service have to be followed. Plus, restaurants and taverns must record customer’s contact information. Employers also have to ensure guests socially distance and use face coverings.

The guidelines used to be voluntary, now the SSTAR program now double checks for compliance. Officials say some of the biggest challenges for businesses have been in the back of house.

“I think the other thing that’s challenging in restaurants is how do you keep as much as possible staff from physically distancing themselves,” said Public Health Seattle and King County Director Patty Hayes.

“The majority of people coming in, they want to be helpful,” Pearson said.

Pearson credits loyal customers for keeping the doors open and bringing most of his employees back on the payroll, but he’s finished guessing whether the current success last.

“I gave up trying to read the weather a long time ago,” he said.

If health officials discover coronavirus transmission at one of the restaurants, it’s permit may be suspended in an effort to contain its spread.

More than 400 businesses have already been inspected and the vast majority were found incompliance. Health officials praised Elliott Bay Public House and Brewery saying it passed inspection with flying colors.