SEATTLE — Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday ordered the statewide closure of all bars, dine-in restaurants and many other brick-and-mortar businesses for two weeks — and possibly longer — as part of an escalating response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The dramatic new restrictions impact many businesses where people interact, from gyms to movie theaters to tattoo parlors to beauty salons to bowling alleys.
Monday’s order did not cover tribal land. But the Tulalip Tribes moved to close its casino operations at 6 p.m. Monday. The shut down will last through March 31. That includes bars, restaurants and the hotel. Guests were notified Monday afternoon. And the Stillaguamish Tribe will close its Angel of the Winds casino for two weeks effective 6 a.m. Tuesday.
Under the governor’s order, businesses must close by 12:01 a.m. Tuesday. The closures will last until March 31, and could be expanded or extended. The order does not ban the sale of takeout or delivery of food, Inslee said. Grocery stores and pharmacies may stay open. Other businesses, meanwhile, must designate someone who will implement policies to promote “social distancing.”
“These are very difficult decisions, but hours count here, and very strong measures are necessary to slow the spread of the disease,” Inslee said at a news conference in Seattle. “I know there will be significant economic impacts to all our communities and we are looking at steps to help address those challenges.”
The governor also revised his ban on events to prohibit gatherings of 50 or more people. Previously the size limit was more than 250. And gatherings of fewer than 50 people are discouraged, and even prohibited if organizers don’t ensure proper precautions.
As of Monday evening, the official statewide count of COVID-19 infections was 904. The death toll was at least 48. Nationwide, there have been at least 4,287 cases and 71 recorded deaths.
In Snohomish County, there have been 200 cases and four fatalities. Twenty-one of the Snohomish County cases are related in some way to the Life Care Center nursing home in Kirkland, the scene of many viral infections that turned fatal.
“We represent 2% of the population in the United States but over 20% of the nationwide infections,” Inslee said. “For the next several weeks, normal is not in our game plan.”
Effectively shutting down entire industries will have huge economic fallout in the Pacific Northwest. State officials were “exploring every meaningful option” to help workers and families impacted by lost wages, Inslee said, but the governor did not outline a specific plan at Monday’s press conference.
“I hope we will have some news on that in the upcoming days,” Inslee said. “We are going to be as creative as possible, so that we can get through this.”
Inslee planned to sign legislation Tuesday freeing up $200 million in state emergency reserves to combat the public health and economic effects of the new coronavirus.
Of that, $175 million is intended to cover costs incurred by state agencies and local public health districts on the front lines of the fight.
There’s $25 million going into a new COVID-19 Unemployment Account. This sum is to assist employers who have employees receiving unemployment insurance benefits as a direct or indirect result of the outbreak. It is intended to help business owners pay their share of unemployment benefit charges.
In light of mandatory school closures statewide, the legislation known as House Bill 2965 also contains provisions aimed at ensuring high school seniors will be able to graduate even if they don’t meet all the requirements set out in state law. It will allow the State Board of Education to give public and private schools flexibility to waive some requirements — such as minimum number of credits — that may be hard to complete due to school closures.
Prior to Monday, the state Employment Security Department had taken steps to assist workers who are exposed to or diagnosed with COVID-19 and cannot come to work, as well as situations where an employer shuts down as a result of COVID-19.
The governor said he recognized “enormous economic implications and social disruptions” will occur because of the business closures.
But it’s necessary, he said, to save lives.
“If we are living a normal life right now, we’re just not doing our jobs as Washingtonians,” Inslee said. “It’s much, much too dangerous.”
At the news conference, Inslee was joined by other Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers and King County Executive Dow Constantine.
The new measures “are designed to flatten the curve,” Somers said — to temper the increase in coronavirus infections.
“I’m very proud of our citizens — it’s clear that they’re taking this very seriously,” Somers said.
Maxing out hospital beds, ventilators and other medical resources in the state would not only pose a serious threat to those infected with the virus, but also everybody having more-familiar emergencies: heart attacks, strokes, traumatic injuries and so on.
At this point, people need to assume that they, and everyone they meet, has been exposed to COVID-19, Constantine said.
“Go to work if you must, but hunker down if you are able,” he said. “Postpone anything you can. Treat the next two weeks as a period of self-quarantine to protect yourself and the lives and health of your loved ones and of our community.”
Inslee made a personal plea to people age 60 and older and those with underlying health problems, saying they are at substantial risk, citing increased mortality rates.
“You need to self-isolate, starting right now,” Inslee said. “This is not a legal statement by the governor, but it’s as strong as recommendation as I can possibly make.”
Other governors have instituted such measures. California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sunday called for all bars, wineries, nightclubs and brewpubs to close in the nation’s most populous state. Residents of the San Francisco Bay Area were ordered to stay home except for essential needs. The governors of Oregon, Ohio, Illinois and Massachusetts also ordered bars and dine-in restaurants to shutter.
Inslee’s proclamation Monday covered privately owned card rooms, but tribes were left to make their own decisions on their casinos.
The Tulalip Tribes Board of Directors opted to shut down casino operations, including bars and food venues, and close the hotel. Guests were notified and will be able to check out Tuesday. Non-essential employees were sent home Monday.
In addition, Tribal Government and Quil Ceda Village will be reduced to essential staff and have them work from home as much as possible. And directors decided to postpone the tribe’s annual general council meeting and election slated for Saturday.
“For many, if not all of us, this is our first time dealing with a pandemic. It is not an easy decision that we make, but it is necessary to protect the health and wellbeing of our people and our community,” reads the statement signed by Tulalip Tribal Chairwoman Teri Gobin. “We certainly hope this will pass quickly and we can get back to normal, but this is a new issue for us and there is no certainty as we go forward.”
And the Stillaguamish Tribe announced that it would close its casino and public venues, including bars and restaurants, out of an abundance of caution. The facility would receive
During the closure, the property will undergo an intensive deep cleaning, according to a release issued by the tribe. Also, employees will be paid during the two-week closure.
Dr. Jeffrey Duchin, the chief health officer for Public Health — Seattle & King County, urged people to continue to exercise smart personal hygiene, like thoroughly washing hands and avoiding face-touching, as well as “intense social distancing.”
“The outbreak is likely to go for months, and whatever we do today, we wouldn’t expect to see that impact for at least a month,” Duchin said. “So we won’t be able to look at the number of cases two weeks from now and tell us whether this — or any of our strategies — are effective, or how effective.”
Constantine asked people to continue to support the arts, small businesses and restaurants in coming weeks, if possible, but from a safe distance.
“If this pandemic is symbolized the medical mask,” he said, “then perhaps our resilience is going to be represented by the takeout box.”
The Associated Press contributed.