Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin was out for a walk Thursday with her daughter. She saw bucolic scenes: Groups of children on playgrounds, families gathering in parks. When she drove home, she got stuck in rush hour traffic.
These snapshots of normalcy in the midst of an unprecedented crisis convinced Franklin she needed to do what, it seems, no other executive in Washington has done so far: She directed the residents of her city to stay home, to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. The directive, issued Friday, goes into effect at noon Monday.
Franklin’s directive, which like similar orders in other states contains plenty of exemptions, comes as pressure around the state begins to mount on Gov. Jay Inslee to order individuals to stay home and nonessential businesses to close. New York, California, Illinois and other states, representing at least 1 in 5 Americans, have ordered their residents to stay home.
“This needs to happen at my level and at all other levels in our government and our country,” Franklin said Saturday. “The more of these types of orders we see across this state the safer our state will be.”
The city, however, wrote that while Franklin is “directing the people of Everett to do what they can…This is not a mandate.”
Franklin, less than two weeks ago, stood beside Inslee and other local leaders, as the governor banned large gatherings in Western Washington, the first of a series of steps he’s taken — like a belt, squeezing ever-tighter — to restrict physical interactions in the state.
“I in no way want to pass judgment on what the governor is or is not doing,” she said Saturday. “But I felt in our community we needed to do more.”
Inslee, who has also banned funerals, closed schools and shuttered restaurants across the state, has been pleading with Washingtonians to stay home. But he’s not yet ready to order it.
As the gears of modern life have slowly ground toward a halt — Seattle closed playgrounds and basketball courts Friday and eased parking rules Saturday — the governor, in consultation with health experts, continues to hope that a full “stay at home” order will prove unnecessary.
“Nothing in the governor’s orders prevents local jurisdictions from taking actions,” Tara Lee, an Inslee spokeswoman, said Saturday. “We continue to monitor public health and other data to drive any decision-making.”
She said Inslee spoke with Franklin before she made her decision and the governor had no new announcements planned for Sunday.
Franklin’s order allows people to go outside for necessary errands or for walks. “Essential” businesses, like grocery stores and pharmacies, may remain open. And Boeing, which has the largest manufacturing building in the world in Everett, falls under an “essential” exemption and may remain open, despite concerns among employees there that infections are spreading inside the plant.
“A mayor of a city shouldn’t make a decision that has worldwide implications,” Franklin said of her decision to categorize Boeing as “essential.”
The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) on Saturday confirmed 269 additional cases and 11 additional deaths from COVID-19, bringing statewide total to 1,793, including 94 deaths. There are confirmed cases in 27 of the state’s 39 counties.
DOH announced a priority list Saturday for equipment such as masks, gowns and face shields. Protective equipment will go first to hospitals, first responders and long-term care facilities with the most confirmed cases; then to other health care facilities, then isolation facilities and finally to homeless shelters and family members of confirmed cases.
“Personal protective equipment is a scarce resource that is difficult to procure statewide, nationally, and internationally,” DOH wrote. “The state’s prioritization list does not guarantee that every order that meets the priority criteria will be fulfilled.”
Most confirmed cases have been in King County, where there are 934 confirmed cases and 74 people have died.
King County on Saturday announced it would transform Harborview Hall, across from Harborview Medical Center, into a 45-bed COVID-19 recovery site, to try to preserve hospital beds for the most critical patients. The homeless shelter that currently operates at Harborview Hall will temporarily move to the former King County Records warehouse, the county said.
But King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn urged Inslee and the county to do more. Dunn called on County Executive Dow Constantine to issue a “stay at home” order for Washington’s largest county.
“The potential public health benefits, in my judgment, far outweigh the inconveniences of the order,” Dunn wrote in a letter to his colleagues on the County Council. “The probability of grave illness and widespread death is very high compared to the burden of folks being directed to stay home.”
Constantine’s office, which did not respond to a request for comment Saturday, told Dunn they were coordinating with Inslee’s office and public health officials.
“This is not an area where we want to cut it close,” Dunn said in an interview. “History won’t much care if we were three to five days early in jumping the gun, but history will care if we are three to five days late.”
In Washington, the outbreak has hit earliest and hardest in the Puget Sound region. But Eastern Washington is not immune. Yakima County has 13 confirmed coronavirus infections, including in two employees at the Good Samaritan Health Care Center, a senior-living facility in Yakima.
On Friday, the leadership of Yakima’s only hospital pleaded with Inslee to issue an order shutting down businesses in the county. He declined.
Doctors at the hospital, Virginia Mason Memorial, said that even with the relatively low number of confirmed infections there, they expect to be out of ventilators and overwhelmed by April 8, unless residents stay home.
“We physicians will be forced to decide which one of our neighbors, our friends, our family members gets a chance at life and which ones will certainly die; no one is coming to save Yakima,” said Dr. Marty Brueggemann, chief medical officer for the hospital. “We call on all levels of government and everyone in our community to immediately shelter in place for the next 14 days.”
“It is not too late, but the time is now.”
Yakima’s only other hospital, Astria Regional Medical Center, closed in January.
“All 226 of our beds have been full since the beginning of January,” said Carol Peet, CEO of Virginia Mason Memorial. “We do not have the capacity to care for a pandemic on top of all the other chronic illnesses in the county.”
Correction: This story has been updated to note that Virginia Mason Memorial is the only hospital in Yakima. It is not the only hospital in Yakima County.