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Dayton businesses discuss details of reopening

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Pedestrians cross Main Street in downtown Dayton in this September 2018 file photo.

Business owners and government officials in the Dayton area gathered virtually for a town hall Thursday to discuss how to go about a potential reopening of businesses in anticipation of Gov. Jay Inslee beginning to lift restrictions.

Inslee’s 2:30 p.m. press conference today was expected to go into more details about his plan to roll out a reopening strategy while at the same time taking measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In the meantime, Port of Columbia Executive Director Jennie Dickinson invited community members and leaders to gather via Zoom and talk about logistics.

Masks, sanitizer, gloves, bathrooms, outdoor seating areas and even avoiding a potential local health inspector scam were among the topics of the roughly 20 participants.

When everything goes back to “normal” it won’t be quite normal, they acknowledged.

“I hope everybody’s hanging in there,” Dickinson encouraged at both the start and finish of the meeting.

Columbia County Public Health Administrator Martha Lanman kicked things off by noting that Day 100 of the quarantine was Wednesday and the community was responding well.

“We’ve done a great job with social distancing,” Lanman said. “... We still only have the one positive case on March 8.”

Lanman said 71 tests have returned negative and results are expected to be processed quicker in the days ahead.

“We now have a 24-hour turnaround on tests,” Lanman said. Prior to now, results were taking up to seven days. Lanman said test kits no longer have to go to an out-of-state lab for processing.

She said neighboring Garfield County, the smallest county in the state, is the only county without a confirmed case of coronavirus.

After the medical update, Dickinson steered the meeting toward business leaders.

Discussion ensued about where to get gloves, masks and sanitizer, which will all most likely be required for most businesses as they reopen.

Gloves, the group decided, could be obtained via food service companies, hardware stores and auto parts shops.

On a sour note, an initiative to have masks sewn locally ended up netting no results, so an employee for Columbia County ended up making some to hand out for free.

“It’s gonna be really important that these businesses can get hands on masks,” Lanman added.

Chelsey Eaton, program coordinator for Columbia County Public Health, said education would be paramount too.

“With these cloth masks, we need to make sure people know they can wash their masks, they don’t need to toss them,” Eaton said.

Regarding sanitizer, nobody raised a hand when Dickinson asked if they were able to source some from anywhere besides the XO Alambic distillery in Dayton.

“I think our best option is to keep that local then,” Dickinson said.

Questions came up regarding cleaning of public area bathrooms, such as at Lyons Ferry Marina. Lanman recommended they follow the guidelines of Washington State Parks restrooms.

Lanman also said patio seating for restaurants is still a no-go right now.

Up in the air are plans for Dayton’s annual auto show, All Wheels Weekend, tentatively slated for June 19-21.

Mike Springs, owner of Chief Springs Fire & Irons Brew Pub, said he is concerned about two things if the events goes on — too many or too few people showing up.

Dickinson said it is still too early to make a call, and organizers have said a decision will be made by June 1.

“There are so many questions,” Dickinson said. “We just don’t know.”

Dayton Chamber of Commerce Manager Molly Weatherill-Tate said she stays in contact with other chambers and downtown associations.

“(We want to) learn from what others are doing and take some of those best practices,” Weatherill-Tate said.

Dickinson asked about taking temperatures and Lanman said, while she’s surprised by it, temperature checks didn’t appear to be very high on the priority list for the state.

Eaton concluded the meeting by saying that she’d heard from a business about a potential scam involving a fake health inspector.

Eaton said she wasn’t sure why someone would try to impersonate a public employee, but one business reported to her that someone came by claiming to be a health inspector. Eaton said they had not yet visited that particular business.

Eaton pointed out that health inspectors will always have a name and badge.

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Jedidiah Maynes can be reached at or 509-526-8318.

Jedidiah Maynes is the managing editor of Walla Walla Lifestyles magazine. He also covers local news for the Union-Bulletin and frequently writes about arts and entertainment in Marquee.