Washington addresses the Vivace paradox, adds restaurant workers to COVID-19 vaccine eligibility ranks starting March 31st

Gov. Jay Inslee and Washington health officials are solving the Vivace paradox: How can you allow restaurants and cafes to reopen with increased indoor seating capacity without making sure the workers who serve those un-masked eating and drinking customers are eligible for vaccination?

The answer is you can’t so, come March 31st, restaurant workers will join the ranks of the essential workers who formally qualify for COVID-19 vaccination in Washington.

Inslee announced the change Thursday. People 60 to 64 and those experiencing homelessness that live in or access services at shelters and congregate settings will also be eligible.

CHS reported here on the dilemma faced by Capitol Hill-headquartered Cafe Vivace and restaurants and cafes across the Hill as COVID-19 restrictions lifted but food and drink workers were not included in the state’s current vaccination phase.

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With rising worries about Seattle’s LGBTQ venues, R Place’s search for a new home continues

(Image: Jacob Berrier)

Just as Seattle nears a real reopening from the COVID-19 crisis, the city seems to be catching on that some of the important elements of its most at risk communities might not make it.

“Even as venues are allowed to open at limited capacity, some are on their last legs, and nightlife regulars wonder if Seattle’s LGBTQ+ nightlife scene will ever be the same,” a feature this week in the Seattle Times reads.

It is too late for R Place’s longtime E Pine home. The gay dance club and bar moved out in recent weeks after losing its lease in the midst of months of closure from the COVID-19 lockdowns. Many of the venue’s fans have only a distant memory of a pre-pandemic visit to mark their last time inside the old auto row building home for more than 30 years.

The images of the emptied club show some of the familiar walls and views for patrons. Other elements might be unrecognizable without a crowd of clubgoers and go-go dancers. Continue reading

Back to school: Seattle has tentative agreement to start bringing kids back to classrooms

There is a tentative agreement and a timeline for kids in Seattle Public Schools to get back in the classroom.

Leaders of the Seattle Education Association union have reached an agreement with the district on a plan for restarting in-person education for the city’s thousands of public school students that will give families the option of putting kids back in the classroom starting March 29th. The union’s members must still approve any deal.

Under the agreement, the district’s pre-kindergarten and elementary special education students will have the option to return to the classroom March 29th. Other elementary students and older special education students would have the option to return to the classroom on April 5th. The district and union still need to agree on a plan for return for  middle and high school students. Continue reading

Want Capitol Hill’s music clubs to reopen? ‘Band Together’ Thursday night

Thursday night, dozens of Pacific Northwest artists will take part in a livestream event to raise awareness and funding for helping independent music venues through the COVID-19 crisis.

Despite allowances as the state moves to the next phase of reopening that would technically allow capacity-limited crowds, most venues remain shuttered under the complicated web of bookings and sales required to support a live music business.

CHS reported on the early warnings from clubs like Neumos and Chop Suey about the unique challenges the industry faced. Those early concerns have only grown even as reopening has accelerated.

Steven Severin of Neumos and Life on Mars is hoping people will get involved with the keepmusiclivewa.com cause and tune into Thursday’s Band Together Washington broadcast: Continue reading

‘The most precarious situation that we’ve ever seen’ — Seattle considers right to counsel and extending COVID-19 crisis eviction moratorium through 2021 — UPDATE

Items left outside after a past Capitol Hill eviction (Image: CHS)

The Seattle City Council is set to vote Monday on “right to counsel” legislation that would entitle anyone facing eviction to an attorney at no cost.

Under the bill, sponsored by Councilmember Kshama Sawant, the city’s Department of Construction and Inspections would contract with a group of local attorneys and would be required to educate tenants about the new right to counsel in various languages. Similarly, landlords would be required to let their tenants know in eviction notices that they have this right.

Tenants would not have to accept counsel, but the measure would require that they be offered an attorney at no cost.

The councilmember and others are also calling for extension of the city’s eviction moratorium through 2021.

UPDATE 2:55 PM: Monday brought a mixed bag for Seattle tenants rights advocates with Mayor Jenny Durkan announcing the city’s ban on evictions will be extended through June while the City Council opted to hold off on Sawant’s “right to counsel” bill citing concerns about legal issues around the proposal. The council voted 6 to 3 to move a vote on the bill to the March 29th session. Teresa Mosqueda and Tammy Morales joined Sawant in opposing the delay. Sawant was vocal in her frustration, accusing council president Lorena González and opponents of trying to weaken the bill.

Meanwhile, Durkan said “while there is hope on the horizon, the work of recovery is just beginning,” in extending the moratorium. “Seattle residents and businesses continue to feel the economic impact of this pandemic, and we will not successfully recover if we do not include the recovery needs of low-income communities and small businesses,” Durkan said. “Extending the eviction moratorium provides housing stability for our neighbors as new federal funding arrives.”

Original report: Sawant, “eviction defense experts,” and renter advocates were part of a Monday morning press conference where the District 3 rep’s office says they will explain “why the Seattle City Council should strike a double blow at evictions today, and vote for the Right to Counsel legislation without loopholes” and the moratorium extension resolution.

With Seattle and the state’s moratorium on all evictions during the COVID-19 crisis slated to end this month, Sawant is championing a resolution calling on the city to extend the prohibition through the end of the year. 50 community groups and tenants rights organizations have also called on Durkan to extend the restrictions. In February, a King County Superior Court judge upheld the city’s ban.

To provide eviction defense services, the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections has contracted with the King County Bar Association’s Housing Justice Project since 2019. Edmund Witter, the project’s senior managing attorney, said they handle about 2,500 eviction cases per year across King County and the legal assistance usually costs between $300 and $500. Continue reading

Governor says it is time for kids to go back to class — but there’s still no deal with teachers in Seattle

As the city’s teachers union remains locked in a stalemate battle with the Seattle Public Schools district over an agreement on a return to in-classroom learning, Gov. Jay Inslee ordered the state’s school districts Friday to begin offering at least hybrid options to students by mid-April citing a “mental health crisis” among students and the push to fully reopen Washington after more than a year of COVID-19 lockdowns.

“There is unfortunately and undeniably a mental health care crisis in this state regarding our youth,” Inslee said Friday.

Inslee said his proclamation prohibits districts from refusing to provide an “on-site option” to families. Continue reading

Seattle set to move to Phase 3 of reopening with expanded capacity for restaurants, plus fans at Mariners opening day

With the state’s key COVID-19 metrics showing the spread of the virus has dropped to rates not seen since early fall, Gov. Jay Inslee announced that Monday, March 22nd will bring a further reopening of Washington’s economy and loosening of restrictions on large gatherings including professional and youth sports and “other outdoor spectator events.”

The loosened restrictions include allowing restaurants to increase the number of inside diners they serve to 50% capacity after just over a month of capacity capped at 25% after February’s Phase 2 reopening.

“Some of the hardest hit businesses in Washington will be able to return to 50% capacity as we continue on the road to recovery,” Inslee said in the Thursday announcement. “On March 22, we make one more step to beating this virus and rejuvenating our economy.”

Thursday’s announcement also included an accelerated time table for expanding the roster of those eligible for vaccination to include first responders, and key groups of essential workers including grocery employees and agricultural workers. Those groups will now gain eligibility five days earlier starting March 17th. Continue reading

Broadway drive-in part of worker health, safety, and COVID complaints against Dick’s — UPDATE

A masked Dick’s customer

Workers rights advocacy group Working Washington has announced health and safety complaints have been filed with the state over COVID-19 conditions at two locations of Dick’s Drive-In including the popular Broadway burger stop.

“Dick’s Drive-In has a well-established reputation as a beloved community institution and a great place to work, but conditions in these stores right now simply don’t align with this history,” Working Washington’s press release on the complaints reads. “Workers know the company can do better, but managers have consistently failed to address these issues.”

The complaints filed with the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries by five current and former employees allege failure to enforce mask-wearing by both employees and customers, inconsistent hand-washing requirements, mold contamination, and failure to adequately sanitize. The complaints also say thin plastic gloves provided to employees can melt and have sent at least one employee to the emergency room with burns. Continue reading

‘Honor system’ — Capitol Hill’s essential food and drink workers have decision to make on COVID-19 vaccine eligibility

Seattle’s vaccination mega site at Lumen Field is ready to go (Image: King County)

Seattle is ramping up vaccination efforts to the highest levels yet and with the new resources will come eligibility for some types of essential workers.

But there will be no protection for a key group of workers essential to the city and Capitol Hill.

The solution? Well, that might be a matter of the state vaccination system’s honor code and making some personal decisions about who should be considered an essential worker.

“Restaurant workers and all of the coffee shop workers are not included in the essential workers definition to be given vaccine,” Espresso Vivace owner David Schomer says. “This is especially dangerous for our community because many people take off their mask to enjoy food or coffee indoors at establishments that are allowing indoor dining in order to survive.”

Up until now, the idea of people “line jumping” and getting vaccinated ahead of eligible groups has been repugnant. Our hospital workers, the elderly, those at the highest risk of suffering and death — those were the people the shots needed to get to. But as Washington moves to a new layer of its vaccination rollout and the national supplies from Johnson & JohnsonPfizer, and Moderna are projected to reach levels necessary to serve every adult in the nation before summer, a much fuzzier moral environment awaits.

If you think you are essential, March 22nd might just be your time. UPDATE: Thursday, Gov. Jay Inslee announced the addition of “Phase 1B, Tier 2” of the state’s just a little bit too complicated vaccination groupings will be moved up five days to March 17th.

Inside Vivace’s Broadway location, signs ask in the friendliest way possible for customers to wait to enjoy their coffee outside so they don’t lift their mask in the shop. Schomer has reopened Vivace to continue serving customers but says he won’t open indoor seating until his staff is vaccinated. Continue reading

One year: What did you see during the pandemic?

This week marks one year since the first CHS headlines about the spread of the COVID-19 virus. “Though global by definition, pandemics have local impacts,” local officials warned. “Pandemics can cause absenteeism, alter patterns of business and travel, interrupt supply chains, and affect the daily operations of your business.”

They were not kidding.

The crisis has been devastating across the country — and here in Seattle and King County. And it has been life changing well beyond your new masked fashion habits and pandemic era hairstyles. Continue reading