We’re open: Phase II begins in Island County

— Created May 27, 2020 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

Island County has moved to Phase II of Gov. Jay Inslee’s four-phase “Safe Start” plan to reopen businesses – more than a week ahead of the potential June 1 date set for the state as a whole.

Island County Public Health submitted its request for a variance to move to Phase II last Friday, after learning Tuesday the county was eligible to apply. An answer was expected early this week, but instead, state public health officials gave their seal of approval to the plan Saturday. Many small businesses were ready and began allowing people through their doors Sunday for the first time in two-and-a-half months.

“We are thrilled to be open and able to practice our beloved craft,” said Misty Ellis, owner of The Hive Salon Co. in Oak Harbor.

“We are excited about the prospect of reopening, but we are being cautious about moving too quickly,” said Mitch Aparicio, co-owner of Penn Cove Brewing Co., which has locations in Coupeville and Oak Harbor. “We understand everyone is anxious to get back to normal, but the safety of our staff and customers is our top priority.”

Aparicio anticipates both locations will be opening in June, while takeout will continue Thursday through Sunday from 3 to 7 p.m. at its Coupeville location.

Provisions of Phase II allow for gatherings of five or less people from outside one’s household and limited non-essential travel for approved Phase I and II activities. Businesses allowed to reopen include remaining manufacturing, additional construction, in-home or domestic services such as nannies and housecleaning services, professional services and office-based businesses, limited in-store retail, real estate, hair and nail salons, barbers, pet grooming services and restaurants and taverns (with reduced capacity of no more than 50 percent).

Camping, however, is not allowed in Island County at this time and businesses must meet all safety standards put in place by state health officials before they can open their doors. Tele-work is still strongly encouraged whenever possible. Those considered high risk are still encouraged to stay home and avoid any unnecessary travel or contact.

The reopening requirements mean a new way of doing business for many and businesses are coming up creative ways to meet those standards.

“We are working at 50 percent capacity,” said Ellis. “We have taken our lobby out so people cannot bring guests in with them. Everyone must wear a mask, everyone must wash their hands. We have an intense sanitation system in our back room when we are finished with clients and we are giving ourselves 15 minutes between each client to disinfect our salon and ourselves.”

Ellis said the salon has a large selection of personal protective equipment, an air purification system and hospital-grade disinfectants and sanitizers to keep employees and customers safe.

“We will be following the state of Washington guidelines for Phase II reopening by reducing our occupancy by 50 percent and stepping up our cleaning and sanitizing,” said Aparicio. “We plan on opening both locations and outdoor patios and will serve all beverages in plastic cups. We will also have a limited food menu until we can open to full capacity.”

While some restaurants, like Penn Cove Taproom in Coupeville, have been able to provide takeout options throughout the closure period, it has been tough on small business in general.

“The shutdown has been very difficult on us and our staff,” Aparicio said. “We did everything we could to apply for relief assistance and did our best to keep up to speed on the everchanging rules and regulations. We were finally approved for the first round of the PPP (Payroll Protection Plan) relief program and fortunately, most of our employees returned to work. This allowed us to open for takeout services and continue working on the brewery construction.

“The loss of revenue, however, has put a major burden on us for sure,” he continued. “Not only did we have two locations before the shutdown, but we were also in the process of building out our brewery and our third location in Freeland – equipment and material had already been purchased prior to the shutdown. The missing revenue we had forecasted to help with the expansion forced us to slow down the progress quite a bit. We are seeking other ways to get back on track.”

Some of the repercussions of the shutdown can be felt industry-wide, said Ellis.

“Our industry has been stripped completely,” she said. “Financially emotionally, mentally – we have been broken down completely. But our industry has proven globally we are stronger together and I hope we continue to be strong through this and learn from these trials. I don’t want us to lose sight of this and I hope we stay as united as we have been over these last 10 weeks.”

Ellis said while she feels the industry as a whole has not had anyone fighting for them at a government level, community support has been tremendous. She feels it is small business that continues to pay the economic price in this pandemic, making continued community support essential moving forward.

“We appreciate every person who has supported us locally, and as a community, it is crucial to support local businesses long-term,” she said.

“The support we’ve received from the Whidbey community during the COVID shutdown has been amazing,” said Aparicio. “Being able to offer drive through for takeout was very successful. However, we also recognized the priorities for our community and decided that collecting donations for the Coupeville School District to help buy much-needed computer hardware to allow students to complete their schoolwork from home was much more important.”

Aparicio said they have collected more than $3,000 to support the program and will continue collecting donations through the end of June.

” We value the support from our community,” he said. “Without it, none of the local small businesses would be successful.”

As of now, roughly one-third of the state is, or is eligible, to move to Phase II of reopening. The “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order remains in effect until May 31, although Gov. Inslee is making no promises the rest of the state will be able to move forward on June 1.

“As I have repeatedly said before, these are decisions that are driven by public health data and science, not the calendar,” he said last week. β€œTo be clear: this does not mean that we will be able to open every county in the state on June 1. Counties that continue to have large numbers of infections are not in a position to open up stores, restaurants and services safely.”

Island County is required to remain in Phase II for a minimum of three weeks and can proceed to Phase III only with authorization from the State Department of Health.

For more information, visit islandcountywa.gov or coronavirus.wa.gov. Go to penncovebrewing.com for updates and find The Hive Salon Co. on Facebook and Instagram.