For Pete Koerner, the biggest challenge now with running the Top Notch Cafe in Colfax is “just trying to keep the doors open, man.”

That didn’t get any easier Friday, the first day for Whitman County’s return to Phase 2 of the state’s COVID-19 reopening plan.

Whitman County, along with Cowlitz and Pierce counties, will spend at least the next three weeks under Phase 2 restrictions instead of the less restrictive Phase 3. Phase 2 calls for 25% capacity limits in restaurants, gyms and bars.

Koerner, who runs Top Notch with his wife, Candis, kept customers who stopped for lunch Friday afternoon spaced a booth apart.

“I’m just frustrated,” he said. “Frustrated with it all.”

Whitman County’s Phase 2 return was largely driven by an increase in COVID-19 cases out of the city of Pullman, which makes up roughly 70% of the county’s population. About 87% of countywide cases in the latest recorded 14-day period were attributed to Pullman residents, according to Whitman County Public Health.

At this point, the way back to Phase 3 lies in sticking with COVID-19 guidelines as more people get vaccinated, said Bailey Maykovich, vice president of public relations for Washington State University’s Panhellenic Council, a student-run organization.


As of Thursday, COVID-19 vaccines became available to all Washington residents 16 or older.

“I think that that’s something that our community as a whole is dealing with and other communities across the country are dealing with as well,” Maykovich said.

COVID-19 cases associated with WSU’s Pullman campus have been on the decline this week, according to WSU Pullman’s COVID-19 dashboard, with the university recording 95 cases over the past two weeks as of Thursday. That’s down from the high for the month, 205 cases, recorded April 5.

Throughout the pandemic, WSU’s Panhellenic Council, Multicultural Greek Council and Interfraternity Council — in partnership with the Center for Fraternity and Sorority Life — suspended social events to help prevent campuswide spreading.

“We encourage reporting of anything and everything that could be considered a violation, and then we go through it,” Maykovich said.

As WSU Pullman’s cases have declined over the past week, countywide positives outside of the campus have gone up.

This despite an order installed April 2 by county Public Health limiting outdoor social gatherings in Pullman to no more than 10 people. Phase 3 limits such gatherings to 50, while Phase 2 sets the bar at 15.

Pullman police Chief Gary Jenkins said law enforcement has taken “an education, then enforcement” approach with upholding the April 2 restriction.