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Seattle restaurants and bars work to navigate another mask mandate

The Washington Hospitality Association said the governor's mask mandate will hopefully slow the spread of COVID-19 with minimal harm to businesses.

SEATTLE — Starting Aug. 23, people will have to wear masks at bars and restaurants in Washington state under Gov. Jay Inslee's new indoor mask mandate announced Wednesday.

The Washington State Hospitality Association (WSHA) supports the mandate.

"This is a much better option than other options that were on the table," said WSHA CEO Anthony Anton.

The delta variant is concerning for both customers and staff and Anton said the WSHA would like to see cases get under control to avoid the possibility of capacity limits or closures.

"A unified approach to masks means it's easier to explain to guests," said Anton, "This is a step we can take that does minimal harm to businesses and can keep their doors open after a tough 18 months."

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"We're just riding this wave as best as we can," said restaurant and bar owner Jack Cheung.

Cheung opened SZN Seattle, a Mexican-Asian fusion restaurant in Queen Anne, on Aug. 11.

"It's a huge risk, but it's a risk we were willing to take. We're hoping that things don't get pushed back but you never know at this point," said Cheung.

He plans to make the appropriate changes for Monday but wants to see some further guidance from the state when it comes to rules and enforcement. He said there were areas of "gray" in the governor's announcement.

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"We're going to enforce masks and if you're not seated, I guess you'll have to keep it on, but it's going to be hard when people are standing and having a drink and just want to mingle with another table," said Cheung.

While SZN Seattle is a new restaurant, Cheung is no stranger to pandemic restrictions. He also owns LTD Bar in Fremont, which can attract crowds, especially on Friday and Saturday nights.

"We're going to be a little more serious about the customers following the rules. We'll also have a door guy to help with the flow, letting people know as they enter, 'Hey these are the new rules, you have to abide by it,'" said Cheung.

He said the bar might need to hire more staff to help with enforcement. He's grateful he can consider adding to the team instead of having to let people go.

"I don't mind operating like this. I don't mind even closing earlier," said Cheung. "I don't mind it, as long as they don't shut us back down again." 

The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) told KING 5 Thursday that its agency will be in charge of enforcing mask mandates at businesses. Businesses that violate the mandate could be subject to fines, according to L&I. 

The amount of any fines would depend on a number of factors including the size of the business, if it has a history of health and safety violations and the severity of the violations, an L&I spokesperson said.