Inslee, others urge Washington to ‘hunker down’

By Jim Camden

The Spokesman-Review

A new round of restrictions and closures will take effect just after midnight tonight as state and public health officials made strong appeals for Washington residents to make major changes in their daily lives.

“We are not powerless against this virus. We have effective means of fighting it,” Gov. Jay Inslee said Monday morning in announcing the new restrictions. “If we are living a normal life right now, we are just not doing our job as Washingtonians.”

Inslee released an emergency order which his office announced Sunday evening, a series of stricter closure measures to take effect at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday.

All sit-down service at bars, restaurants, food courts, coffee shops and doughnut shops will be closed, although restaurants will be able to provide food through take-out and delivery services. Health clubs, barbershops, beauty salons and tattoo parlors will also be closed, as are non-tribal card rooms and youth sports activities.

Tribal casinos are not part of the order, although Inslee’s office said later tribes have voluntarily agreed to adopt state guidelines and orders throughout the COVID-19 outbreak.

“We’ve heard from some tribes today that they are closing casinos in alignment with today’s announcement,” Mike Faulk, Inslee’s deputy communications director, said in an email. “This is precisely what the governor is talking about when he says we have to all be part of the response to this virus.”

The closure will last for two weeks and may be extended, Inslee said.

Grocery stores, pharmacies and hardware stores will remain open, as will child care centers, convenience stores and banks, but will follow “social distancing” protocols of extra space between patrons or customers. Licensed recreational and medicinal marijuana shops will also remain open.

State residents who can work from home are urged to do so, as are those in high risk categories — over 60 or with compromised immune systems or other underlying health problems.

“Hunker down if you’re able,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said. “Postpone anything you can.”

Although King, Snohomish and Pierce counties have the most residents testing positive for the virus and all but one of the 42 known fatalities, the restrictions apply statewide. Last Friday, the growing number of cases prompted Inslee and Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal to announce all state schools will close Tuesday, less than three hours after Spokane officials had announced schools would remain open.

“These decisions were not reached lightly or without consideration of how they may affect different parts of the state,” Faulk wrote. “We know there will be economic impacts that must be mitigated, but this outbreak is global in its scale and will not spare people merely because they live in areas with lower populations.”

Current estimates place the mortality rate for COVID-19 for those under 50 at 0.4%, Inslee said, while between 70 and 79 years of age, it goes to 8%, and for those 80 and older, it could be as high as 18%.

In a separate order, Inslee revised an earlier order prohibiting gatherings, reducing the ban to 50 persons, from the previous limit of 250. Gatherings of fewer than 50 participants are prohibited unless criteria for public health and social distancing are met. But they aren’t recommended, Inslee said

“If you’re thinking of having a gathering of 49 people in the same room, think again,” he said. “We need your leadership more than ever.”

That order is also for two weeks, but could be extended.

Asked what steps the state would take to enforce the rules, Inslee said it has the ability to get an injunction to enforce the order against a “willful, conscious” effort to disobey it. But he contended the “vast majority” of residents would obey it on their own.

“We understand science in this state,” he said. “We need to rely on our love for each other than our fear of the law at this moment.”

Inslee said he talked with President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and other governors this morning and urged federal officials to revise rules for filling requests for equipment from the federal emergency stockpiles.

The federal government has been responding to Washington’s requests, Inslee said, but the state will need to increase its request “rather significantly.”

Under current rules, equipment is allocated based on the states’ population. He suggested that doesn’t make sense when Washington has 2% of the nation’s population but more than 20% of its cases.

“I believe the president will change that prioritization,” Inslee said.