With businesses shuttering and unemployment claims spiking, Gov. Jay Inslee shared what he called “a glimmer of hope” in the state’s fight against the new coronavirus.
New data show a slight decrease in the curve of new cases per day in Washington, and some hospital beds and supplies are on the way, Inslee said during a news conference Thursday in Olympia. The state still needs more testing, hospital capacity, supplies and health care workers, Inslee said, and he might have to extend the governor’s two-week stay-at-home order. A proclamation which took effect Wednesday closed all businesses deemed non-essential and banned public and private gatherings, from weddings and funerals to sleepovers and pick-up basketball.
“We shouldn’t be within 10,000 miles from champagne corks with this,” Inslee said. “We simply cannot allow this virus to be slowed and then spring back up on us. We’ve got to pound it, and pound it until it is done.”
As of Thursday, 3,207 people had tested positive for the virus statewide, including 149 who had died. In Snohomish County, there were 816 cases and 18 deaths. Many of those who have died were senior citizens, but younger people with no underlying health conditions can get seriously ill, too.
When it comes to how law enforcement will police the order, agencies across the state and in Snohomish County agree: This is a time to educate.
“The Everett Police Department will not actively seek out individuals failing to comply with the orders solely to charge them with a crime,” Chief Dan Templeman said in a statement Wednesday. “We recognize that people need to go to the doctor, the pharmacy, the grocery store and perform other essential activities. When our officers encounter someone failing to comply with the orders, we will remind them, as appropriate, of the restrictions.”
Templeman’s comments fall in line with statements from the Washington State Patrol, the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office and other local police departments. If law enforcement officers encounter people violating Inslee’s proclamation, officers and deputies will ask them to disperse.
So far, residents have complied with the order, Inslee said. The governor has not asked law enforcement to detain, arrest, ticket or establish checkpoints for compliance.
But that could change.
Inslee’s chief of staff, David Postman, told reporters Monday he doesn’t doubt “for a second” that Inslee will ask authorities to enforce the order.
Currently, the goal is to educate people, not to make arrests, said Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste earlier this week.
At the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, deputies haven’t encountered any problems with people violating the order, spokeswoman Courtney O’Keefe said.
Across the county, some residents have been dialing 911 to ask how the order affects them.
Emergency dispatchers saw an increase in calls after Gov. Inslee announced his proclamation Monday, Snohomish County 911 operations manager Hattie Schweitzer said. Most people are calling 911 to ask general questions about what’s allowed under the new rules.
Dispatchers are still getting several calls a day from the public asking general coronavirus questions, she said, which could cause problems for people trying to report emergencies.
“What we’d like to see is a reduction of the calls that could be referred elsewhere,” she said.
On Thursday, Inslee said concerned Washingtonians should visit www.coronavirus.wa.gov for information.
Everett residents can report concerns about others to police through firstname.lastname@example.org.
Leading up to the governor’s stay-home order, some Snohomish County cities made similar proclamations.
In Edmonds, the city council on Sunday expanded Mayor Mike Nelson’s authority during a declared emergency so he could issue a stay-at-home order Sunday night, before Inslee’s.
One provision of the emergency powers gives Nelson the right to prohibit citizens from openly carrying or possessing firearms or similar weapons. Nelson has not made such an order.
The mayor’s new authority drew the ire of anti-tax activist and gubernatorial candidate Tim Eyman and gun-rights activists.
The city received nearly 300 emails, many from outside the city and state, calling on the mayor and city council to remove that section from the emergency powers ordinance, city spokeswoman Jamie Holter said.
Originally, the city council was to discuss and revise the expansion of powers Tuesday. That didn’t happen, which frustrated some council members, who were told they could make amendments during the meeting.
They’ll have the chance to do that Friday, during a special council meeting called by Nelson, who will ask members to remove the gun provision.
“It was getting in the way of doing the city’s work,” Holter said.
Eyman went to the Edmonds City Council chambers Tuesday night to tell city leaders he opposed that section of the emergency ordinance.
But the dais was empty. City council meetings are now held online to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Additionally, public comment now is only allowed via email, whereas previously people could go to the podium and share their thoughts with council members in person.
Eyman and a group of gun-rights activists started to chant “Let us speak” when they were told live public comment wasn’t allowed.
The disruption caused Mayor Nelson to ask Police Chief James Lawless to send officers to monitor the situation.
Eyman and his associates were standing close together and near City Clerk Scott Passey, violating social distancing recommendations, police spokesman Josh McClure said.
Officers ordered them to leave the chambers because of the disruption, McClure said.
The Friday council meeting to possibly remove the gun portion of the emergency powers ordinance is scheduled for 3 p.m. and will be streamed on the city’s website, www.edmondswa.gov.