Gov. Jay Inslee issued a statewide stay-at-home order Monday night, following the lead of other states that have taken the extraordinary step to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The order — which the governor is calling “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” — follows actions taken by some local jurisdictions who decided not to wait for the state to make the call. Inslee's order will stay in effect for at least two weeks.
"This is a pandemic that threatens to overwhelm our society without decisive action," Inslee said during his televised address, noting the rapidly growing cases of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus. He added that there are likely thousands more cases that have yet to be diagnosed. "This is a human tragedy on a scale we cannot yet project."
The directive calls for all residents to remain at home except for absolutely necessary activities, such as restocking essential supplies or accessing vital public services.
“If you want to have parties on the beach or play pickup basketball at the park or have sleepovers, these are no longer allowed for at least a couple weeks,” Inslee said. It also includes weddings and funerals, he added.
Grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations and services necessary for continued operations will remain open. Other business closures must be in effect within 48 hours.
“If a non-essential workplace can close now, it should," Inslee said.
Ahead of Inslee’s statewide address, Boeing announced it was suspending operations at its Puget Sound facilities for at least two weeks. Production workers reported for duty Monday to receive further guidance from the aerospace company, according to a news release, but the suspension begins Wednesday.
Restaurants are still allowed to offer take-out and curbside service, following cleaning protocols from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and social-distancing requirements as outlined by public health officials.
Inslee noted that going outside for walks or gardening, for example, is still permitted. However, people must practice strict social distancing and stay at least 6 feet away from others at all times.
Read more about this order from Austin Jenkins and Tom Banse of Northwest News Network.
The urgency to keep social distance is rooted in the effort to “flatten the curve,” or reduce the strain on the health care system. Public health officials have said without proper social distancing, our region runs the risk of running out of hospital beds or ventilators needed to treat critically ill patients infected with COVID-19.
“We need to grow hospital capacity,” Inslee said Monday night. “The more of us who stay home, the fewer of us who will be infected by COVID-19, and the more lives we can save.”
The governor’s office issued its guidance on what operations qualify as essential based on definitions from the federal government and California, which issued its shelter-in-place order March 19.
During his address Monday night, Inslee renewed calls to avoid overstocking on supplies, to guarantee that everyone — especially health care workers and those most vulnerable to infection — will have the items they need during this emergency.
While Inslee noted this order is enforceable by law, it wasn’t immediately clear what enforcement mechanisms exist to keep Washington residents from leaving their homes unnecessarily. Until now, officials haven’t explicitly expressed intent to enforce social distancing.
That could change. At least one Pacific Northwest city is attempting enforcement measures. The city council in Vancouver, B.C., unanimously voted Monday to fine businesses and individuals who violate the orders: up to $1,000 for individuals and $50,000 for employers.
Some regional jurisdictions decided not to wait for Inslee to take this next step, opting instead to issue directives at the local level sooner.
The Edmonds City Council held an emergency meeting Sunday to approve expanded emergency powers for Mayor Mike Nelson, who subsequently issued a stay-at-home order that went into effect at midnight.
“It is only with such extraordinary precautions that we can hope to staunch the spread of this virus and look forward to a return to normal in the not-too-distant future,” Nelson said in a statement.
Likewise, Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin issued a similar directive that went into effect Monday. It ordered residents and businesses to stop non-essential activities in Snohomish County’s largest city.
And the Lummi Nation announced tribal members must shelter in place until at least April 5. The Bellingham-area tribe’s business council issued the order Sunday night.
"We need all Lummi people and all Lummi residents to be leaders, and ensure the safety of our vulnerable populations,” Lummi Nation Chairman Lawrence Solomon said Sunday, in a plea on Facebook Live. “Please, stay home.”
The Lummi announced two additional COVID-19 cases over the weekend, bringing the total there to five.
Surrounding Whatcom County has 48 confirmed cases and two deaths. A majority of the county’s cases are linked to Shuksan Healthcare Center, a nursing home in Bellingham. County officials say the facility has taken steps to avoid a devastating outbreak like the one at Life Care Center, the Kirkland nursing home where more than a third of the state’s COVID-19 deaths have been reported. Life Care was cited by federal inspectors on Monday for “immediate jeopardy,” or a situation in which residents are in immediate danger.
As of Monday afternoon, the state Department of Health has identified more than 2,200 cases of the disease statewide, including 110 deaths, and those numbers continue to grow rapidly.
Inslee has used wartime rhetoric to describe this unprecedented time in Washington state, comparing the response to that of the nation during World War II. He echoed those remarks Monday night, urging every Washington resident “to enlist themselves in this tumultuous struggle in order to win.”
he acknowledged that everyone is eager to get back to their daily routines.
“We want to get back to normal as soon as possible," Inslee said. "The fastest way to get back to normal is to hit this hard. And that’s what we’re doing.”