OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday ordered Washington residents to stay at home for the next two weeks in an unprecedented attempt to blunt the spread of COVID-19.
The proclamation signed by Inslee aims to aggressively curb movement and interaction of residents by shutting down businesses deemed non-essential and banning public and private gatherings of people. That ban includes “some of the most important gatherings” like weddings, funerals and celebrations of life, the governor said — but also encompasses parties on the beach, pickup basketball at the park or sleepovers.
Inslee announced the much-anticipated action in a televised address from his office at the Capitol.
“It’s time to hunker down in order to win this fight,” Inslee said. “… The less time you spend out in public, the more lives we can save.”
The order took effect Monday, though provisions for business closures go into force Wednesday. Talking to reporters, Inslee’s chief of staff David Postman said the restrictions could last beyond two weeks.
It is not a “shelter-in-place” mandate. Residents are allowed to go outside, and essential businesses such as grocery stores, gas stations and pharmacies will remain open. Inslee’s office released a 14-page list of workers whose jobs are considered “essential” and critical. They cover a range of sectors, from health care to defense, public works to the news media.
Also, while eating and drinking on-site is still banned, restaurants and bars may continue to offer take-out and drive-thru food options.
Saying he expects “everyone out there to comply,” Inslee gave a stern warning for those who might not heed the order.
“Make no mistake, this order is enforceable by law,” he said. According to Washington State Patrol Chief John Baptiste, a violation would amount to a gross misdemeanor.
“The goal isn’t to make arrests,” Batiste told reporters. “The goal is educating the community about being safe and healthy.”
But Postman, in the same press conference, said the governor wants there to be compliance. “I don’t doubt for a second he will ask for enforcement,” he said, explaining it could be law enforcement dispersing gatherings.
Monday’s directive is another in a continuum of actions undertaken by Inslee in response to the worsening situation.
The number of confirmed infections and deaths in Washington rose sharply again Monday. According to the state Department of Health, there have been 2,221 documented coronavirus cases so far, including 110 deaths. Snohomish County has seen 519 cases and 11 fatalities, according to the Snohomish Health District.
Prior to Monday, Inslee had ordered the closing of schools, entertainment venues and other businesses where people congregate, such as fitness centers and churches.
Now, it will be extended to more Main Street retailers. A record store, for example. Or if a factory that makes toys is operating today— and those toys aren’t for the Department of Defense — they would not be considered essential and would have to close.
His new directive is similar to orders in effect in California, Oregon and other states.
The announcement came hours after the Boeing Co., one of Washington’s largest private employers and a major piston of the economy, announced it is shutting down operations in Everett and the rest of the state to protect workers, starting Wednesday. That corporate decision followed the death of an Everett worker from COVID-19.
“Now is a time for bold actions like these, and we will continue to look at what can be done statewide,” Inslee said in a news release about the company’s action.
Until Monday, Inslee had resisted issuing a statewide stay-home order as a means to slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus, even though Washington has been one of the nation’s epicenters. He had pleaded last Friday for people to practice social distancing voluntarily, but the sunny weekend brought with it crowds of people enjoying the outdoors. A video taken by a Herald photographer showed hundreds of cars lining up at Wallace Falls State Park.
The state Department of Natural Resources closed campgrounds as of Monday and will be closing all public lands to recreation soon.
I had to swing by Wallace Falls Trailhead for an upcoming assignment unrelated to what I ended up seeing, hundreds upon hundred of cars in a full parking lot and lining the streets to the trailhead. I’m honestly in shock right now. #SocialDistancing? #COVID19 pic.twitter.com/Sjq3ZKHRQ6
— Olivia Vanni (@ogvanniphoto) March 21, 2020
Others in the state didn’t wait. The mayors of Everett, Edmonds and Lake Stevens each issued stay-at-home orders for their cities that took effect Monday.
Inslee’s order covers the entire state but does not necessarily pre-empt the local declarations. It depends on how they are drafted and Postman said he was not familiar with their content.
Cities can adopt rules that are more restrictive than the state’s, he said. But not less.
Washington joins a growing number of states trying to be more aggressive in curbing unnecessary movement of residents because social distancing is viewed the best means of preventing transmissions of the virus.
In recent days, California and New York — two other hot spots — imposed such restrictions. They, like Washington, have all received federal disaster declarations. On Monday, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown imposed a stay-home order in her state.
Throughout his 10-minute address, Inslee underlined the struggles that many people likely will face in the coming weeks, and gave reassurance that things will one day return to some semblance of normalcy.
“Schools will reopen, weddings will happen, factories will start again and you will be able to toast the end of this at your favorite hangout,” he said. “… But every single Washingtonian needs to enlist themselves in this tumultuous struggle, if we are to win.”
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald net.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.