Doing the right thing: Restaurants and COVID-19

In response to rising COVID-19 cases county wide, Public Health – Seattle & King County is expanding efforts to educate and enforce compliance of Governor Inslee’s Safe Start COVID-19 reopening requirements in food establishments. 

The governor’s Safe Start business reopening requirements include that food establishments:

  • Set up customer flow that allows for social distancing of 6 feet or more;
  • Assure that employees and customers wear face coverings;
  • Limit restaurant indoor and outdoor seating occupancy; and
  • Take other important protective measures such as surface cleaning and employee health screening.
Elliott Bay Brewing in Lake City was commended by Environmental Health investigators for exemplary work in following guidance to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

“We know that COVID-19 spreads when people come in close contact with one another, such as sitting too close together at restaurants. With the rise in cases, there is an even greater urgency to ensure we are working with restaurants to reduce the risks of these potential exposures,” said Patty Hayes, Director of Public Health – Seattle & King County. 

Based on communicable disease investigations including contact tracing and onsite restaurant inspections, we are learning that King County’s recent increasing number of people with COVID-19 is in part caused by gatherings in public places, which may include restaurant and other food establishments. 

“We are so fortunate to have such vibrant restaurants in our area and restaurant owners who have shown great care for their employees and customers in reducing risks of exposure to COVID-19,” said Director Hayes. “Just this past weekend, Public Health conducted spot checks at restaurants to provide education and ensure Safe Start requirements are being followed.  Public Health provided education to help restaurants come into compliance. If the guidance is subsequently not met, we will close establishments until health protection modifications are made.” 

Exemplary establishments

Environmental Health staff visited Elliott Bay Brewing in Lake City and noted that they had a sign posted on a stand at the reception area stating; “We’re in Phase 2.”  Informative, clear and concise signs were posted, the floor had distancing markings, hand sanitizer was readily available, and staff and customers were wearing masks.  A hostess was at the entrance reception area and ready to assist. Inspection staff told the Insider that it was a welcoming entrance indicating that customers would enjoy a safe dining experience. 

During Public Health spot-checks of restaurants, Lake City’s Thai One On restaurant was commended for excellent COVID-19 prevention tactics.

According to Brooks Gay, Manager at Elliott Bay Brewing in Lake City, both employees and customers are typically responding positively to changes at the restaurant. “People see staff wiping down surfaces, providing a single use menu or a QR code, and that we are prepared. Masks are provided to customers who don’t have one.  Our employees are very responsive and engaged with how things can be improved. They are happy to be back to work.”  

Another exemplary restaurant we recently visited is Thai One On in Lake City, which is also working to establish a safe eating environment for both customers and staff. 

Thai One On has rearranged furniture to allow for ample physical distancing for customers and staff.

Following a recent site inspection, Thai One On staff met to go over the rules, including how it is important to wear the mask at all times. Poy Kitmut, a food worker at Thai One On, told the Insider that, “Customers appreciate that Thai One On had precautions before they were required.  Staff are concerned about COVID-19, know why the rules are important and are supportive of the steps we are taking. In addition to wearing masks, we focus on cleanliness and handwashing, along with changing gloves frequently. We make sure that there is space between food workers in the kitchen.  We put a shelf and small cart between the stations so food workers have their own space.”

Public Health will continue to conduct spot checks for restaurant compliance with State guidance, provide education about requirements to restaurant management, and, if the guidance is subsequently not met, will close establishments until Safe Start health protection modifications are made. We will also be sure to highlight restaurants that are working hard to implement Safe Start requirements so that their customers and our whole community can continue to enjoy the wonderful restaurants that King County has to offer.

Originally published July 8, 2020.