Camas slowly reopens, gets ready for Phase 3

Restaurants offer limited seating and outdoor ‘parklets,’ theater prepares for in-person movies

Many parts of Camas-Washougal are still closed to the public under Phase 2 of the state's four-phase reopening plan, including the children's natural play area at the Washougal Waterfront.

Diners enjoy a newly expanded outdoor dining area at Nuestra Mesa in downtown Camas. With the county in Phase 2 and headed toward Phase 3 of the state's four-phase reopening plan, restaurants in Camas-Washougal are able to operate with limited seating and plenty of COVID-19 precautions, including physical distancing. (Photos by Kelly Moyer/Post-Record)

Three months after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent shutdowns and “stay at home” orders, there are signs that life is slowly returning to “normal” in downtown Camas’ historic business district.

On Sunday, June 21, diners at Nuestra Mesa and Grains of Wrath sat at outdoor tables — albeit distanced by at least six feet from other customers and served by restaurant employees wearing masks — and a sign on the side of the historic Liberty Theatre reads “Goonies return June 26,” an apparent nod to the fact that the movie theater is making plans to reopen with limited seating and show the cult classic 1985 movie, “The Goonies,” under Phase 3 of Governor Jay Inslee’s “Safe Start Washington” plan.

Camas city officials, including Mayor Barry McDonnell, have held virtual forums with the city’s business owners over the past few weeks to better understand the needs of the business community during the state’s phased reopening plan.

“It’s definitely been an interesting conversation,” McDonnell said of the weekly business owner forums. “I know we’re working with three different (restaurants) to have ‘parklets’ where they could expand out.”

The new outdoor dining area at Nuestra Mesa, which expands into a nearby parking section on Northeast Fourth Avenue and allows the restaurant to offer more spaced-out seating, is one example of the city’s new “parklet.”

City leaders had discussed closing Northeast Fourth Avenue in some downtown locations to allow for more on-street dining, but McDonnell said officials and the business community believed that closure would lead to adverse impacts on other downtown businesses and retailers.

“We re-evaluated and were trying to be flexible and adjust,” McDonnell said. “We had a few ideas that rose to the top, including the parklets and drop-off locations for retailers.”

The city has since placed “10-minute parking” signs throughout the downtown core to allow retailers to offer curbside pickup on side streets along Northeast Third, Fourth and Fifth avenues.

“We’ve been slowly starting to open up,” McDonnell said. “And we’re making sure we communicate with retailers, restaurant owners and (the public).”

Clark County entered Phase 2 on June 5, and will be apply to move into Phase 3 on Friday, June 26, as long as the county meets the state’s requirements for case numbers, hospital capacity, testing capacity, case interviews and contact notifications and new outbreaks. As of Tuesday, June 23, the county has tested 12,505 individuals for COVID-19, had 719 positive cases and 29 deaths. The county noted 18 new cases over the most recent weekend.

Under Phase 2, retailers could once again offer in-store shopping with social-distancing and other precautionary restrictions; restaurants could operate at less than 50 percent capacity with tables of no more than five diners; hair and nail salons reopened; more outdoor recreation such as camping and beaches, reopened and residents were allowed to gather with very small groups (no more than five) of people not in their household.

The Camas Public Library has been able to offer curbside pick-up under Phase 2, the Camas Farmer’s Market has reopened and several retailers and other businesses, including the Attic Gallery in downtown Camas, are once again open to customers.

If the county receives state approval to move into Phase 3, Camas and Washougal residents will see even more reopenings. Under Phase 3, libraries and museums are allowed to open to the public once more; restaurants can serve tables of up to 10 diners at 75 percent capacity; bar areas in restaurants and taverns are allowed to operate at 25 percent capacity; theaters can operate at half-capacity; and all other business activities except nightclubs and events with more than 50 people are allowed to reopen.

Phase 3 also allows gatherings of up to 50 people, resumes non-essential travel and allows recreational facilities such as public pools and gyms to reopen at no more than 50 percent capacity. The state’s final phase, Phase 4, will allow nightclubs, concert venues and large sporting events to reopen and ease restrictions on gatherings of more than 50 people.

The state requires a minimum of three weeks between each phase and will deny movement into a less-restrictive phase if a county experiences an outbreak of COVID-19 or cannot meet the benchmarks on new cases and hospital capacity.

Though many businesses and recreation activities have reopened under Phase 2 or will reopen under Phase 3, county public health officials urge residents to remember that COVID-19 still exists and that precautions against the coronavirus are still necessary.

“As people resume activities outside of the home, it’s important to continue taking precautions to keep yourself and others in the community healthy,” said Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County health officer and Public Health director. “The virus hasn’t gone away. We need to stay vigilant to prevent COVID-19 transmission from increasing in our community.”

Public health officials urge people to remain at least six feet from others when in public places and urge people to wear masks while in public and to wash hands frequently or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available.

Symptoms of COVID-19 include cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fever, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and new loss of taste or smell For more information about COVID-19 and the county’s Public Health response, visit clark.wa.gov/public-health/novel-coronavirus.

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