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Washington state threatens fines, criminal charges against businesses defying COVID-19 restrictions

Restaurants, gyms and other businesses flouting the state's coronavirus restrictions face losing licenses — or being hit with fines and criminal charges.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — It took the threat of criminal charges to get a Lynden restaurant to follow Washington's state’s latest COVID-19 guidelines.

According to the state’s Department of Labor and Industries, The Fairway Café, which had been offering indoor dining, went to takeout only after a judge issued a restraining order against the restaurant.

Gov. Jay Inslee last month issued a temporary order for all bars and restaurants to offer only outdoor service or takeout, after a recent spike in coronavirus cases throughout the state. 

A Labor and Industries spokesperson said hundreds of people complained The Fairway Café continued to offer dining room service. Last week, the state warned the restaurant to go to takeout or outdoor service only. 

A spokesperson said when the warning was ignored, the state went to Whatcom County court to get a temporary restraining order, which meant violating the order could result in contempt of court charges.

Other types of businesses are also getting warnings.

The owner of Graham Fitness in Pierce County said he got a warning from the state taped to his front door Wednesday.

Inslee’s latest restrictions called on indoor gyms to close, but owner Michael Knick has refused to shut down.

”They can say what they want, they can put stickers on my door, that doesn’t bother me,” Knick said.

He said the state does not have the authority to order him to close.

“There’s nowhere in the Constitution that it says that our rights can be taken from us if there’s a pandemic that’s killing less than 1% of our population,” Knick said.

But the state says enforcing laws keeps employees safe.

Labor and Industries spokesperson Tim Church said, since the businesses are licensed workplaces, the state has the authority to investigate situations where an employee’s health may be at risk.

”It gives us authority to enforce it just like we would if there was a large hole in the floor of a workplace, and people were falling into it,” Church said. “It's a workplace hazard, we have the authority to cite and fine a business for workplace hazards.”

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