OLYMPIA — Hundreds of people gathered Sunday at the Washington state Capitol to protest Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home order designed to combat the spread of the coronavirus, holding signs that read “End The Shutdown” and “Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Covid 19!”
Inslee, however, was resolute that the emergency orders were working and saving lives.
Earlier Sunday Inslee again blasted President Donald Trump’s call to “liberate” parts of the country from social-distancing decrees, saying Trump is fomenting a potentially deadly “insubordination” before the pandemic is contained.
In Olympia some protesters wore masks, while others waved American flags and pushed baby strollers. Tyler Miller, one of the organizers of the event, had said rural areas should be treated differently than more urban locations with more coronavirus cases. He also said Inslee’s decisions on what constitutes essential businesses has been unfair and unconstitutional.
At the rally, Miller spoke to attendees through a bullhorn: “We cannot have a government and a governor that does not listen to his own citizens.”
Inslee said he understood the desire to get back to work and be with family and friends, and he knew the critical motivation of his “Stay home, stay healthy” orders.
“These are difficult and frustrating times. I understand the urgency of this crisis,” he said in a statement. “However, this is not the time to halt the progress we have made… I support free speech. But crowd counts or speeches won’t determine our course. This isn’t about politics. It can only be about doing what is best for the health of all Washingtonians.”
His comments about Trump and the protests were on ABC-TV’s “This Week. ” Protests have occurred across the country, including in Idaho and Oregon. But both Democratic and Republican governors have said strict social distancing is essential to curbing the pandemic’s spread.
Asked about Trump’s tweets last week that included “Liberate Michigan” and “Liberate Virginia” from governors’ orders, Inslee replied:
“I don’t know any other way to characterize it, when we have an order from governors, both Republicans and Democrats, that basically are designed to protect people’s health, literally their lives, to have a president of the United States basically encourage insubordination, to encourage illegal activity.
“To have an American president to encourage people to violate the law, I can’t remember any time during my time in America where we have seen such a thing,” Inslee continued.
The Democratic governor said Trump’s statements were “doubly frustrating” and exhibited “such a schizophrenia” because they contradict guidelines on reopening state economies issued last week by the White House.
On Friday, when asked about the planned protest in his own state, Inslee said people were “welcome” to express their First Amendment rights but encouraged those at the rally to practice social distancing.
Washington has about 11,800 confirmed virus cases and at least 634 deaths, according to the state Department of Health. As of Friday, the health department said there were 11,802 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state but “data cleaning” late Saturday showed 190 of them were among people who live out of state, authorities said. The corrected number of confirmed cases in Washington now stands at 11,790, the agency said Sunday.
Inslee, who also criticized Trump’s tweets on Friday, has said he is planning to reopen the economy in phases, likely starting with businesses. The governor has said some restrictions could potentially stay in place beyond May 4.
Washington state had the nation’s first confirmed coronavirus case in January and the first deadly cluster at a Seattle-area nursing home.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. But it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death for some people, especially older adults and people with existing health problems.
On Friday, Washington state Republican legislative leaders released their plan for reopening Washington’s economy. It specifies some lower-risk industries — such as residential construction, auto dealers and solo landscapers — that could reopen soon.
Herald writers Jerry Cornfield and Ben Watanabe contributed to this report.