Pierce County businesses prepare for possible rollback into Phase 2

The number of new COVID-19 infections paired with increasing hospitalization rates has health officials in Pierce County warning that a rollback into Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s Roadmap to Recovery is possible.

Business owners, workers and more are growing nervous as a looming shutdown threatens to erase the progress up until now.

The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department says the trajectory of new hospitalization and infection rates will likely surge past metrics set by state leadership.

King County’s pandemic numbers are also rising but not yet as high as their neighbors to the south. Business owners south of the King and Pierce county line worry a rollback to the south might send customers north just a few miles into Federal Way.

 "It’s kind of been one of those things where we have to reinvent the wheel every single day," said Alexander Anton, executive chef at The Mill Steakhouse + Spirits in Edgewood.

It has been a long year for his restaurant and countless other businesses through the pandemic.

"All of the changes have come with very short notice and limited time for us to adapt and change but we’ve done what we had to do," he added.

The sign in the restaurant lobby reminds guests to continue what they should already be doing; Staying distanced and wearing masks, but that message is not sticking everywhere or with everyone.

"We’ve seen surges of cases over time," said Nigel Turner from the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.

The agency blamed people in their 20’s and 30’s gathering in large groups while unmasked for driving infection and hospitalization rates high. Even though the data is delayed by about 6 days, the county says the numbers threaten Pierce County’s ability to stay within Phase 3.

The decision when to rollback or forward in phases rests at the state level. Even though one in four people in Pierce County have received at least one shot of the vaccine, the most recent data only reflects choices made weeks ago.

"We know this is pandemic that can increase quickly if we’re not careful," said Turner.

A rollback would not just slash dine-in capacity for restaurants back to 25%, other retailers like gyms, salons and more also risk losing customers.

At The Mill, most of the employees let go at the beginning of the pandemic have since been rehired. Now that a return to harsher restrictions is possible, Anton worries more hard decisions could be around the corner.

"We have no say in it at all," he said.

Each of the state’s counties’ metrics will be reviewed Monday. Health officials say the public needs to continue sanitizing, masking and distancing. Plus, vaccine availability and supply will soon be wide open in just a matter of days.

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