Mossyrock restaurants may continue offering indoor dining this week despite Gov. Jay Inslee’s new sweeping restrictions after the city passed an ordinance in November saying the city “will not recognize” Inslee’s proclamation until “sufficient COVID-19 information and data is presented to the City that establishes a state of emergency exists within the City.”
“If we had good data saying Mossyrock should be doing what we’re doing, that’d be fine,” Mossyrock Mayor Randall Sasser said Monday.
According to Sasser, the ordinance was met with broad community support and was spurred by frustration that the town of about 800 hasn’t seen many positive cases, yet is under the same restrictions as cities seeing bigger outbreaks.
“Throughout this whole thing, we’ve always been asking our citizens, ‘do you know of anyone in our area with the virus?’” he said. “We don’t know of anybody who has it.”
Public Health Director J.P. Anderson said his office is aware of the ordinance but has little role in responding.
“We’re not the enforcement portion of the response,” he said.
He noted that COVID-19 is a new disease and has moved into areas previously thought to be safe.
“It can be places where it hasn’t been before, and we have seen rural communities have really devastating outcomes … We definitely don’t think any community is immune to COVID,” Anderson said. “No matter where we live or which community we’re working with, they’re all connected. That’s how we view our work in Lewis County.”
Sasser said the city has submitted a public records request in an attempt to get the county to release cases by ZIP code — something local public health officials and the county prosecuting attorney’s office says would be legally dubious, as patients in sparsely populated areas could be too easily identifiable, potentially violating health privacy laws.
While it’s difficult to say if Mossyrock has had any positive cases, Lewis County as a whole has seen cases climb in past months. As of Monday, all but one county in the state is “in the red” according to the state’s data dashboard, meaning there have been more than 75 new cases per 100,000 people in the last two weeks.
Currently, Lewis County is at 247.9 cases per 100,000.
While Mossyrock’s new ordinance may embolden some restaurants to continue indoor dining, it doesn’t block any consequences business owners may face in bucking statewide orders. In passing the ordinance, Sasser advised business owners to comply if state agencies issued citations or fines.
Inslee’s orders have called for a ban on indoor dining at restaurants and bars, in addition to other restrictions.
Alicia Thornton, owner of Lemon Tree Cafe & Espresso, was at the city council meeting when the ordinance was passed. She said she was visited by the Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) last week, who told her serving unmasked residents could lead to consequences. Right now, the cafe is allowing indoor dining, although Thornton said she’s mainly just letting regulars sit down, and she doesn’t know how long it’ll last.
“We have the community supporting us, but for me it’s like, ‘is the community going to pay my fines?’” she said.
Like Sasser, Thornton views the COVID-19 restrictions — which were issued against the backdrop of skyrocketing positive cases and nearly a quarter of a million American deaths — as a way to control citizens. Sasser thinks the orders could be a plot to gain control and then pass other measures such as an income tax or gun control.
“It’s just a power thing,” he said. “This is giving them another way to say ‘OK, we’ve got them trained to now follow all our directions and never question what’s going on and never question the information we give them.’”
He also spoke of unintended consequences of the shutdown orders, such as mental health issues and a rise in domestic violence.
“That’s the other thing that is not being communicated, I feel, with the public,” he said.
Anderson noted that the county has worked to mitigate those consequences, pointing to reopening schools as a way to address student isolation and a need for childcare. He also pointed to federal CARES Act funding going to small businesses.
“Unfortunately, it’s not an either/or. It’s looking through a complicated matrix of potential outcomes and trying to make the best decision,” Anderson said. “And I know it’s frustrating to watch decisions being made that are impacting lives so profoundly and feeling like they’re being taken out of individual hands.”