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Apple Blossom Floral designer Shell Viger puts together a bouquet of roses Thursday, one of many she will be working on before Valentine's Day.

Wenatchee Valley restaurants: relief over move to Phase 2
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bonnicksen / World photo/Mike Bonnicksen 

Garlini's Napoletana manager Breanna Allstot puts out Valentine’s Day decorations on Friday in preparation for Phase 2 inside dining to re-open on Sunday.

WENATCHEE — Restaurant owners give a sigh of relief with indoor dining set to return to 25% this Sunday. Restaurants can begin the process of slowly recovering after months of closed doors.

Edwin Fonseca, co-owner at La Tortuga Loca, 300 Stevens St. in Wenatchee, is excited to reopen his small restaurant to the public after Gov. Jay Inslee announced relaxed COVID-19 rules for much of the state on Thursday. “I feel like people are eager to go out and have the dining experience again which is a good thing for us,” Fonseca said. “Keeps us busy.”

bonnicksen / World photo/Mike Bonnicksen 

From left Amber Beck, Ashley Gimlin and Jules Largent talk after eating lunch at Garlini's Napoletana on Friday. The restaurant is already open and able to seat customers inside, using "open air" protocols that include keeping all the exterior doors open and monitoring ventilation. But owner Craig Still says they are looking forward to Sunday when the state is relaxing rules for restaurants and other businesses.

Because of the restaurant’s small size and ease of transporting food — tacos, tortas, enchiladas, and more — reopening on Sunday under the governor’s Phase 2 rules will be pretty easy, he said. Fonseca added that he and his father also took pay cuts so they would not have to lay off employees when indoor dining was shut down about two months ago, so they are in no rush to find employees to reopen.

But Fonseca said he was pretty optimistic about their chances as well as grateful to the community for their support.

Alma’s Kitchen, 609 N. Wenatchee Ave., cannot afford to bring back more employees while even at 25% indoor capacity and are scrambling to get ready for Sunday, according to Marco Ramirez, son of co-owner Alma Ramirez.

The last shutdown hit Alma’s Kitchen during the worst possible time, Ramirez said. “We were on our last lifeline,” he said. “We were literally down to the last dollar when the third round of PPP loans came through. We’re thankful for that but it seems like we’re always pushing it to the extreme.”

bonnicksen / World photo/Mike Bonnicksen 

Megan Crail sanitizes menus.

Unlike La Tortuga Loca, takeout is not feasible for them, Ramirez said. Alma’s Kitchen hopes to be back at 100% indoor dining a the start of March, but anything is better than nothing, he said.

Surviving each shutdown has also left Alma’s Kitchen with huge debt from the Paycheck Protection Program that was originally a lifeline for them, Ramirez said. And being unsure about the guidelines for who qualifies for PPP loan forgiveness, it is one more thing to worry about, according to Ramirez.

“We’re using all of that money to survive,” he said. “We’re not using the money to profit. It would have been awesome if that would have been extra change, extra cash for us, but it isn’t.”

And with the prospect of returning to Phase 1 and only takeout, Alma’s Kitchen will do all it can to remain open, but without additional help it would be impossible.

“A year’s worth of closures and just takeout, and struggling, it’s undoable,” Ramirez said. “If this were to be the norm for us, at this point, we’ve come to the conclusion, it doesn’t work for our restaurant.

The owner of El Rey Azteca in East Wenatchee, Juan Murriz Arroyo, finds the move to Phase 2 bittersweet. While it means that COVID-19 cases are going down, it is another reminder of how much he would like to see things go back to normal, according to Arroyo.

Before Inslee’s announcement on Thursday, El Rey Azteca was looking at one more month before they would have to close, Arroyo said. Arroyo said he is happy with 25% and will continue to adapt to the situation but remains worried about returning to Phase 1.

Craig Still, owner of Garlini’s Napoletana, 212 Fifth St. in Wenatchee, said he is thrilled about 25% indoor dining at 72 degrees.

bonnicksen / World photo/Mike Bonnicksen 

Garlini's Napoletana manager Breanna Allstot takes photos of drinks and Valentine's decorations for social media Friday.

Garlini’s had been working with the “open air” protocols that were allowing customers to dine inside as long as long as people were spaced six feet apart, and windows and doors were kept open to improve air circulation.

With the transition to Phase 2, he no longer has to do that.

Thanks to an established takeout program and their customers, Garlini’s was able to survive up to this point, Still said. But moving back to Phase 2, closer to normalcy, has infused some energy into the staff.

“There’s a buzz around the restaurant today,” Still said. “It’s just kind of an exciting day. I even went out to get a haircut today.”

The possibility of regressing back into Phase 1 would be heartbreaking, especially for the staff who never signed up to do curbside service, according to Still.

“It’s in the back of all of our minds,” he said. “But we’re going to still keep masked up, and gloved up and do our part to keep us where we’re at and moving in a forward direction.”

Two killed, one airlifted after car strikes barbershop

WENATCHEE — The driver of a SUV that crashed into a barbershop killing two may have suffered a medical emergency before the crash, police say.

A third person was in critical condition after the vehicle entered The Ave Barber Shop about 6:30 p.m. Thursday on the corner of Chelan Avenue and Second Street, according to a Friday news release from the Wenatchee Police Department.

A passenger in the SUV and a person in the barbershop died, police said. The critically injured person was inside the barber shop and was initially reported as dead but was revived by first responders and then airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, police said.

Police have not released the identities of those involved in the crash.

Callers to 911 just before the crash reported a vehicle moving erratically while southbound on North Chelan Avenue, police said. The vehicle also struck another vehicle on the road before swerving and crashing into the building.

The collision remains under investigation, but preliminary findings indicate the driver suffered a medical emergency while driving.

If the investigation concludes the cause of the collision was in fact a medical emergency, the driver likely wouldn’t face criminal charges, said Capt. Edgar Reinfeld in an interview Friday morning. He added there’s no indication the driver was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

“The investigation so far says this was a medical emergency and not anything criminal,” Reinfeld said.

The SUV crashed through the north side of the building and into the barber shop. There may have been more people injured, but none seriously, Reinfeld said.

The vehicle was removed about 11:30 p.m. and is in police custody. Chelan Avenue was reopened about midnight.

Trump lawyers portray impeachment trial as Democratic score-settling

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Donald Trump’s lawyers said on Friday Democrats had provided no evidence the former president incited last month’s deadly U.S. Capitol riot and had used his second impeachment trial to settle political scores.

Trump is on trial in the U.S. Senate on a charge of inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection by supporters who stormed the seat of Congress in Washington to stop lawmakers from certifying Democratic President Joe Biden’s election victory, resulting in the deaths of five people, including a police officer.

Trump’s lawyers argued that his remarks, including a fiery speech that day urging supporters to “fight like hell” to stop the certification, were protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which ensures the right to free speech.

“To claim that the president in any way wished, desired or encouraged lawless or violent behavior is a preposterous and monstrous lie,” said Michael van der Veen, one of Trump’s lawyers.

The Senate wrapped up its session at 6:29 p.m. A final up-or-down vote to convict could come as soon as Saturday.

In arguments this week, Democratic members of the House of Representatives showed videos and shared tweets they said made clear Trump had set the stage for the violence by falsely claiming the election results were fraudulent and egging on his supporters with his rhetoric long before Jan. 6.

They said he summoned the mob to Washington, gave the crowd its marching orders and did nothing to stop the violence as it played out on television. His one request to act peacefully did not absolve him, they said.

“You rob the bank, and on the way out the door you yell, ‘Respect private property!’ That’s not a defense to robbing the bank,” said Democratic Representative Jamie Raskin.

The Democrats are unlikely to gain a conviction, as few Republican senators have come out against Trump, who remains popular among Republican voters.

Trump’s team played a roughly 10-minute video showing prominent Democrats using the word “fight” in political speeches.

“You didn’t do anything wrong,” Trump lawyer David Schoen said, addressing Democrats. “It’s a word people use, but please stop the hypocrisy.”

Trump’s defense team also portrayed the impeachment trial as little more than the result of a political witch hunt by Democrats who had been trying to get Trump for four years.

Senators sought to confirm whether Trump knew Vice President Mike Pence, who was presiding over the certification, was endangered by the Capitol attack when he sent a Twitter message criticizing him.

Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville said he had told Trump over the phone that Pence had already been evacuated from the Senate for his safety.

Trump’s lawyers gave conflicting answers.

“I’m sure Trump was concerned,” van der Veen said.

The defense case followed two days of video presentations by the nine House Democrats serving as prosecutors.

They showed videos of the Republican former president cheering violence at his rallies, repeating his election fraud claims and urging his supporters to gather in Washington on Jan. 6 for a rally he said would be “wild.”

The Democratic-controlled House impeached Trump on Jan. 13. Conviction in the 100-member Senate requires a two-thirds majority, which means at least 17 Republicans would have to defy the former president.

“I’m anxious to see what my Republican friends do,” Biden told reporters at the White House on Friday.

Van der Veen said there was a double standard at the heart of the prosecution’s case, arguing that some Democrats had “encouraged and endorsed” violence that erupted at some anti-racism protests across the United States last summer without facing any legal consequences.

“They have clearly demonstrated that their opposition to mobs and their view of using the National Guard depends upon their political views,” said van der Veen, a last-minute addition to the defense team who sued Trump in August in a separate case about mail voting.

On Tuesday, the Senate voted largely along party lines that the impeachment trial was constitutional even though Trump’s term ended on Jan. 20. Six Republican senators sided with Democrats.

If Trump is acquitted, the Senate could decide to censure him or even vote to bar him from holding public office again. Asked on Thursday about pursuing the latter option, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said that decision would have to wait until the end of the trial.

Sen. John Thune, the No. 2 Republican in the chamber, indicated that a censure motion could be in the cards.

“I’ve seen a couple of resolutions at least that I think could attract some support,” Thune told reporters. He added that he did not think an effort to bar Trump from holding office again under the 14th Amendment would go anywhere.

Neither side has so far announced an intention to call witnesses, leaving senators on track for final arguments and a vote as soon as Saturday.

World photo/Don Seabrook Queen Tess Sparks gets a hug from candidate Haley Gilman after the curtain closes at the Washington State Apple Blossom Festival Royalty Selection Pageant Saturday night, Feb. 8, 2020.

Columnist Greg Asimakoupoulos' walks through a wooded park in his community have been brightened by painted rocks with a variety of messages.

Little Goose Dam is seen in this undated photo. Billions would be spent to reconfigure transportation in the Lower Snake River corridor used by farmers to move grain and other products to and from Idaho and the Tri-Cities.

All but 6 Washington counties can relax some COVID-19 rules, Inslee announces

OLYMPIA — All but six of Washington’s 39 counties — including all of North Central Washington — will now be able to loosen COVID-19 restrictions and bring back limited indoor dining and live entertainment, and reopen gyms, Gov. Jay Inslee announced this week.

In a news Thursday conference, Inslee said that five of the eight regions in his latest reopening plan for Washington would advance to the second, less-restrictive phase.

Effective Sunday, the move will bring limited indoor dining, live entertainment and other activities to broad swaths of Washington. The regions that will move forward are East, North, North Central, Northwest and Southwest.

Meanwhile the West and Puget Sound regions — which include King, Pierce, Snohomish, Thurston and three other counties — have already advanced to the second phase. Those regions will remain in that phase.

“Today is a very good day for being able to have businesses open and customers being able to have more access,” Inslee said during the news conference. “It’s a good day to give some financial assistance to these hard-hurt businesses that have been so innovative” throughout the pandemic.

Restrictions around the state are lifting as officials race to vaccinate people with a limited supply of doses even as new, more contagious variants of the virus begin to spread. Those new variants mean a fourth wave is likely to hit, researchers have said.

State health officials Thursday reported 1,490 new coronavirus cases and 30 deaths in Washington, bringing the total diagnoses to 326,159, including 4,633 deaths. A total of 18,531 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus.

With Thursday’s announcement, only the South Central region — which includes Benton, Franklin, Columbia, Kittitas, Walla Walla and Yakima counties — will remain in the first and more restrictive phase. That phase prohibits indoor dining at restaurants and general admission at live entertainment venues, and fitness centers can operate on an appointment-only basis.

As counties around the state ease restrictions, residents, businesses, schools and health care workers are about to get more government aid.

Inslee Thursday also announced the distribution of an additional $43.5 million for rental assistance and $43.5 million to assist businesses hurt by the pandemic. The money comes from the state’s disaster response account.

And the governor hailed the Legislature’s passage Thursday of a $2.2 billion coronavirus aid bill, made up mostly of federal dollars.

The legislation — which the governor said he’ll sign likely next week — provides dollars to help increase vaccine distribution and contact tracing, aid schools, and assist landlords, renters and small businesses.

As of Thursday morning, around 987,000 doses of the vaccine have been distributed in Washington — which has a population of about 7.65 million — according to Inslee’s office. That includes both first and second doses.

The state is starting to focus more on people who have received a first dose, said Inslee, to make sure they get their second shot.