When we initially planned our ‘Confidence To Gather’ conversation, Covid metrics for Washington State looked good. We were solidly in Phase 3, but last week we started hearing rumblings that things could be changing. The Seattle Times stated “Several counties in Washington state — including King County — are slated to roll back to a more restrictive phase because cases climbed rapidly over the past month.” Pierce and two other counties have already been rolled back to Phase 2. So, like so many times before, we adapted and retooled.
To get the real scoop, we went to one of our best sources, Aaron Shook, CPCE from WSWEA. They’ve been on the front lines working closely with the governor’s office!
Q: What’s the probability that we’ll be moving back to Phase 2?
Aaron: Well, if we are talking specifically about King County, it is all but a foregone conclusion. I think we will be seeing many counties affected by a shift backwards in phases. King County is currently missing both metrics that are being used as the litmus for these phase shifts, while Snohomish County seems to be on the cusp as well. Fortunately, Pierce County seems positioned to cling on to it’s Phase 2 status by fingernails. The impact of this backwards momentum on our businesses and communities is intense, but we are hopeful that it will be short lived.
Q: When will the Governor’s office make the announcement and when will it go in to affect?
Aaron: As of right now, the announcement is expected to come on Tuesday, May 4th and will take effect May 7th. If you live, operate, or are planning a wedding or in-person event in any of these counties, you should definitely be exploring a contingency plan if your event is in the next few weeks. Benton, Franklin, Grant, King, Kitsap, Lewis, Snohomish, Spokane, Yakima Counties all seem to be at high risk of moving backwards. There may be more counties on the move as well, but these are the highest risk areas I have seen.
Q: Will WSWEA be posting guidelines when the announcement is made and how can people access that information?
Aaron: The WSWEA will keep information updated on our website and Facebook page as changes happen. You can find the Phase 2 & 3 guidelines on the Governor’s website here:
Q: Is there a chance there will be a ‘grace period’ for events scheduled this coming weekend?
Aaron: Unfortunately, we have been unsuccessful in lobbying for a grace period as these changes take effect. We are continuing to push for this, as the impact of these constant shifts on weddings and events is nothing short of insurmountable with such short notices, not to mention the financial impact and loss.
Q: Are you hearing anything that would indicate how long this could last or when we’ll finally see our state re-opening?
Aaron: The Governor’s office is being frustratingly tight-lipped about how and when we will reach a re-opening point. We continue to impress the importance of the ability to plan. Our communities, businesses, couples, and clients need a framework by which they can plan for the future. We find it unacceptable that this framework has yet to be established. One bright spot is the work being done in other states to identify reopening possibilities. We are hopeful that this might shine a guiding light for our state. We will be working on some mass-action campaigns targeting this area so be on the lookout for a call to action from the WSWEA soon.
Q: Will vaccination rates or on-site testing be taken into consideration for hosting in-person events?
Aaron: The WSWEA has been advocating for variances in these areas for quite some time now. The Governor’s office has been vocally opposed to the adoption of multiple sets of operating standards in our industry based around testing or vaccinations. This would be an incredibly important tool to allow our businesses and our events to operate in extremely safe and effective ways.
Q: What are other states doing that WSWEA would like to see the State of Washington do to help expedite re-opening?
Aaron: We really like the robust plan that California has rolled out for both reopening and using testing and vaccinations to help them achieve greater capacities safely. New York City and Oregon have also laid out great frameworks for reopening their businesses and communities and we hope will serve as good examples of how to move forward. We can’t continue to operate in the dark and need to understand the end game so we can plan accordingly. We are seeing an extreme amount of fatigue in regards to the restrictions that are in place and a reopening plan would be the light at the end of the tunnel to help us hold on just a bit longer. With vaccination rates on the rise, highly positive shifts in the CDC guidelines regarding masks and outdoor gatherings, and announcements coming from States and the President about reopening, it is time to get a plan in place for Washingtonians.
Q: What else can you tell us that will help planners and suppliers accommodate clients’ needs and plan for the months ahead?
Aaron: In the short term, you need to have flexible plans in place that will allow for shifts in capacities and guest counts. If you are in a county that is at risk of moving backwards, help your couples and clients keep from throwing money away by planning for a Phase 2 event. At the very least, work with your caterer and other vendors to make the call on guest count before hard costs are incurred. Many vendors are perfectly willing to be flexible, but once they have committed to the hard cost of staffing or procurement, they have to pass this cost on the client, meaning that your clients could end up paying for items or meals they are unable to use if you didn’t shift the plan soon enough.
That being said, I am actually really hopeful that we will see a quick shift to reopening soon. While we can only guess at it until the Governor and the DOH set the plan in place, I think there is an avenue to seeing most restrictions begin to lift in June or July. We might see indoor mask use remain as a mandate for a bit longer than that. I think most other restrictions will begin to lift in the coming couple of months. If you are planning for events late summer or beyond, I think you can be planning with confidence.