NEAH BAY — Neah Bay, including Cape Flattery and Shi Shi Beach, will reopen March 15 to visitors vaccinated against COVID-19 following the Makah reservation’s closure to the public for almost two years.
The Makah Tribal Council decided last week the COVID-19 pandemic has abated enough that the restriction imposed March 16, 2020, will be rescinded next week, Tribal Chairperson TJ Greene said Monday.
Council members decided Monday that proof of COVID-19 vaccination will be required to enter the reservation, as will a $20 recreation permit, an increase of $10 compared with before the pandemic.
Tourists and non-tribal residents will once again walk three-quarter-mile Cape Flattery Trail to its stunning viewpoint, take in Shi Shi Beach and its mile-long Point of Arches sea stacks and stroll the town’s Bayview Avenue.
“We’ve finally reached a point where we’re comfortable,” Greene said.
A checkpoint at the reservation’s entrance will remain in place to ensure visitors’ vaccination status, Greene said.
Masking will be encouraged for those at high health risk but will not be required.
“We have been in conversations with our medical experts, and this is their recommendation,” he said, calling proof-of-vaccination a first step in reopening.
The closure was imposed in 2020 a day before Gov. Jay Inslee closed schools and prohibited large gatherings.
The action was taken given the tens of thousands of visitors who pass through tribal lands annually.
“The more people who are affected by our order, the harder it is to have any type of control,” Greene said.
“Restricting the reservation to just our own people and residents was our most effective means to protect our population.
“We knew we would not keep the virus from coming into our community.”
The tribe was considering opening up before then end of 2021, just as the Delta variant was dying down, then Omicron came along.
“Infections really blew up,” Greene said.
Of about 3,100 tribal members, about 1,500-1,600 live in Neah Bay, Greene said.
About 90 percent of tribal members on the reservation have been vaccinated and about 60 percent have received booster shots, he said.
Tribal government workers are required to be vaccinated, Greene said.
Some tribal members been hospitalized with the virus or isolated, but none have died, Greene said.
“Our community is at a high enough protection level that we don’t have widespread hospitalizations or deaths,” Greene said.
“We’ve made it to this point without any widespread tragedy, is what we’re after, so we are happy about that.”
Other factors pointing toward reopening include weighing the impact of two years of isolation on the tribe’s psyche, mental health and culture, Greene said.
“We are thriving, indigenous culture,” he said.
“We are not able to gather in potlatch, and not having those traditions has taken a toll on us as a people, as well as it’s time to start getting things going in our community.”
Also factored into the decision was the economic impact on Neah Bay businesses, some of which have survived through financial support and the community.
“The community got behind local businesses and helped get them through,” Greene said.
Hobuck Resort is not at full operation, and the Warmhouse Restaurant is closed, but the food truck business is doing well, including one selling Korean food, he said.
Greene said a request for proposal to operate the Warmhouse might be accepted in a few weeks, leading to its reopening.
Washburn’s general store, whose first posting on its Facebook page after the closure was a March 24 notice of special hours for elders older than 60 and health-risk customers, has remained open, including Christmas and Thanksgiving holidays.
“We’re pretty much the only ones open, us and the gas station,” store Manager Lars Lovik said Monday.
Lovik, a non-tribal member, lives outside Neah Bay.
“You lose all the tourism and the sports fishermen, and that’s been our bread and butter for a long time,” he said.
“We had to change the business model.”
That meant bringing in more perishable goods and products that people had been buying off Amazon, such as cases of Lotus energy drink concentrate and the Torani syrup to mix it with.
“I’m hoping we get back to some form of normalcy,” Lovik said, missing the out-of-town customers who’d been coming in the same season every year.
“I’ve been working here 20 years, and you’ve got your regulars who come back every summer,” he said.
“I haven’t seen some people in almost three years. They left at the end of summer 2019 and won’t be back until the summer of 2022.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.