Seattle Restaurant Week is back for a second time during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the spring 2021 edition again lasting an entire month — from April 1 through 30 — to give patrons more opportunities to support the beleaguered industry. More helpful innovations from fall 2020 SRW are carrying forth as well, including: a website (srweek.org) that features restaurant options sortable not just by neighborhood, but by factors like Black-owned, “Eat Local First,” vegan and more; a “Give a Meal” option, with donations going to That Brown Girl Cooks! Community Kitchen, Musang Community Kitchen, Project Feast and more; and no fee for restaurants to participate (with registration running all month long).
Participating restaurants can also again offer prix fixe menus of any kind — including takeout. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still categorizes to-go options as “lowest risk” in terms of contracting COVID-19 when it comes to patronizing restaurants. And in the Groundhog Day that is the pandemic, that’s suddenly looking extremely relevant once again: The latest data shows COVID-19 cases on the rise in counties including King and Snohomish, while statewide case counts are plateauing instead of continuing to go down. It’s a development that Dr. Umair Shah, the state’s secretary of health, calls “very concerning,” with numbers that are comparable to those back in mid-October during Washington’s second surge.
If you are considering dining indoors, here’s food for thought: While vaccinations are increasing, workers in restaurants who are regularly exposed to maskless customers do not become eligible until March 31. Even if all 251,000 of them could get shots right away, it would take until the end of Seattle Restaurant Week or longer before maximum protection kicks in, according to professor Marissa Baker of the department of environmental and occupational health sciences at the University of Washington.
In terms of outdoor restaurant dining — which the CDC terms “more risk,” even with tables socially distanced — Baker has cautioned that structures enclosed on “more than two sides [means] you’re putting up a barrier to airflow, so that is concerning from an exposure [to COVID-19] perspective.” All outdoor dining setups are supposed to meet the state’s “Open Air and Outdoor Seating Requirements,” which include layout specifics as well as strictures to “maintain table seating at least six feet apart from neighboring table seating, and ensure customers and staff always wear cloth face coverings except when consuming food or beverages while seated.” It’s left to would-be outdoor diners to assess compliance and their own risk.
Pandemic fatigue is real, but even as allowed indoor capacity increased to 50% last week, some Seattle restaurateurs are waiting on reinstating dining in for the safety of both staff and patrons. In a March 25 state health department news release, an “increasingly concerned” acting State Health Officer Scott Lindquist said, “We all need to recognize that the pandemic is not over and significant risk remains, even as we vaccinate more and more people. We need to limit the spread of the virus by actively making good choices in our communities, including wearing masks, keeping our distance, avoiding gatherings and delaying travel.”