By Nicholas K. Geranios / Associated Press
SPOKANE — A judge in central Washington state is considering whether Gov. Jay Inslee’s emergency stay-at-home orders issued in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic are constitutional or should be lifted.
The orders were issued two months ago and resulted in the closure of businesses, places of worship, schools, and other public gatherings across the state.
A group of people in Chelan County challenged why the orders by the Democratic governor were still in effect and arguments in the lawsuit were heard Thursday before Chelan County Superior Court Judge Kristin Ferrera.
The judge said she would issue a decision Monday.
“These issues impact people deeply,” Ferrera said of the limitations imposed by the emergency proclamations.
Also before the judge is a motion to move the lawsuit to Thurston County, home of the state capital of Olympia.
Joel Ard, an attorney for the plaintiffs, argued there was no longer a need for the stay-home proclamations.
“The emergency is over,” Ard said, because the state has plenty of hospital capacity to handle the number of cases of COVID-19. “Civil government in Chelan County should be restored.”
Ard sought a temporary restraining order to set the emergency proclamations aside immediately.
But Jeffrey Even, a deputy solicitor general for the state, argued there was no evidence that the emergency had passed. “Nobody says the emergency is over,” Even said. “The virus remains highly contagious. We could easily have a bounce back.”
Even noted that Chelan County currently ranks second in the state, behind Yakima County, in the rate of the spread of the virus.
“The governor has used his authority to protect the lives and health of the people of the state of Washington,” Even said.
Ard said the plaintiffs in the case want local management of the pandemic to be transferred to the local health district. He also said the state Legislature should call itself into special session to make decisions regarding the response to the coronavirus.
Courts in other states have ruled against similar COVID-19 orders by governors. The Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down Gov. Tony Evers’ stay-at-home order, ruling that his administration overstepped its authority when it extended the order for another month without consulting legislators.
In Oregon a rural judge ruled last week that the governor’s executive orders in response to the global pandemic exceeded a 28-day limit adopted by state lawmakers and were no longer valid in response to a suit filed by a group that included churches. The Oregon Supreme Court stayed that order and is now considering the case.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.