Restaurant Owners Lament COVID-19 Rollback in Pierce

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Jim Slopak, owner of Jim Bob’s Chuck Wagon restaurant in Mckenna, said he’s frustrated.

“It’s just getting out of hand,” Slopak said.

He’s referring to Gov. Jay Inslee’s April 12 announcement that Pierce County is rolling back to “Phase 2” of the state’s COVID-19 reopening plan. Local communities affected by these rollbacks include McKenna and Roy.

“We’re hoping the governor opens his eyes and sees that restaurants are not the contributing factor for COVID,” Slopak said. “That’s a known fact. The CDC says that restaurants are not a contributing factor. People in their gatherings — their family gatherings, and their outdoor gatherings and their partying — that’s what’s causing the spike. Not restaurants. We’ve lost, what? Fifty percent of our profits.”

Pierce was one of three counties rolled back to “Phase 2” of COVID-19 related restrictions last week, with Cowlitz and Whitman counties rounding out the number. This means that restaurants and other businesses are restricted to 25 percent capacity, down from the 50 percent number they enjoyed since March.

Susan Hull, owner of Walt’s Place restaurant in McKenna, shared Slopak’s frustrations.

“We can’t keep doing this,” Hull said of the restrictions. “They can’t keep jerking us around. How can you survive on half your income? Less than that.”

The restrictions are due to growing COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in each of the newly restricted counties. To have stayed in “Phase 3” of the reopening plan, counties with a population of over 50,000 needed to have less than 200 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000, over a span of 14 days and less than five new hospitalizations over a span of seven days.

Slopak said it doesn’t make sense to lump McKenna in with the large cities in the county.

“We are at the far south end of Pierce County,” he said. “We should not be included, for example, in Tacoma. We have nothing to do with them. We’re the last stop in Pierce County. So our COVID infections are way, way less than Tacoma up north. We should not be included in that. It should be individual.”

As much as he would like to do something to save his livelihood from a diminished capacity of its own, Slopak said he feels powerless.

“There’s nothing we can do,” he said. “We can’t fight the state. They need to take a closer look on what they are putting their restrictions on. You can go a quarter mile up the road — across the river — and restaurants are at (an increased) capacity.”

As it stands, Slopak said that establishments like his are perhaps one of the safer places to venture out to during this time of pandemic.

“We’re constantly sanitizing,” he said. “All of our employees are tested. Everybody wears gloves. Everybody wears masks. We’re constantly sterilizing everything in the restaurant.”

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