Social, economic and cultural life in Washington will slow to a crawl at 11:59 p.m. Monday night, as Gov. Jay Inslee orders broad restrictions and shutdowns for restaurants, theaters, gyms and all indoor gatherings in an effort to slow the state’s burgeoning coronavirus epidemic.
Inslee on Sunday morning ordered restaurants and bars to shut down indoor service and to limit outdoor service to parties of five or fewer. Indoor gyms and fitness centers must also shut down. Same with movie theaters, bowling alleys and museums. Indoor gatherings with people outside your household will be prohibited unless participants have quarantined for at least a week and tested negative.
“Today, Sunday, November 15, 2020, is the most dangerous public health day in the last 100 years of our state’s history,” Inslee said in prepared remarks. “A pandemic is raging in our state. Left unchecked, it will assuredly result in grossly overburdened hospitals and morgues; and keep people from obtaining routine but necessary medical treatment for non-COVID conditions.”
The new regulations will be in place for at least four weeks, Inslee said, adding “We would hope we have progress and that would be the limit of these restrictions.”
The constraints on everyday life will be as extreme as anything the state has seen since Inslee issued an emergency stay-home order in March.
The new orders do not apply to schools or the court system, which are mostly operating remotely already. They also do not apply to child care, which is operating under its own guidelines. Construction and manufacturing businesses can also continue to operate.
“Time is of the essence here; what we know is, if you act early you can save lives and if you don’t you’ll be swamped by a tsunami of the virus,” Inslee said. “This is in our hands, we make a decision whether this pandemic is going to swallow us whole.”
Inslee talked about other states that haven’t acted and now have hospitals canceling non-urgent surgeries and turning to “semi-trucks with ice” because their morgues are filled.
Despite a statewide mask mandate and current restrictions on businesses, the pandemic has been rapidly spreading in Washington. The state, for the last two weeks, has been breaking previous case records almost daily.
On Nov. 3, the state recorded a then-record 1,469 coronavirus cases. By Nov. 15, daily cases had increased more than 50% and stood at 2,309 cases.
The day Inslee issued his stay-home order in March, there were just 225 confirmed cases, although there was far less testing then.
In Seattle, nearly 20% of all COVID cases from the entire pandemic have been reported in the last two weeks, Mayor Jenny Durkan said.
The full list of restrictions going into effect is daunting. All orders go into effect at 11:59 p.m. Monday, except for the restrictions on bars and restaurants, which go into effect at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday.
Enforcement will be limited.
“You’re not going to expect state troopers coming to your door if you have a big Thanksgiving dinner,” Inslee said. “We do hope people who want to abide by the law will abide by the law.”
Indoor gatherings, outside one’s household, are prohibited unless participants quarantine for 14 days before the gathering or quarantine for seven days before and receive a negative COVID-19 test within two days of the planned gathering.
“Our family is canceling Thanksgiving plans that included other family households,” said Alyse Read, who lives in Edmonds. “We will Zoom or Skype and share our traditions this year.”
Outdoor social gatherings should be limited to no more than five people from outside your household, Inslee said.
Religious services can continue, but must limit indoor attendance to 25% of capacity, or 200 people, whichever is less, Inslee said. Masks must be worn at all times and choirs, bands and congregational singing will be prohibited.
Wedding and funeral ceremonies will be limited to 30 people. Receptions will be prohibited.
Retail stores, including grocery stores, and malls must limit occupancy to 25% and must close food-court seating.
Offices are required to mandate employees work from home, if possible, and must limit occupancy to 25% if they remain open. They must be closed to the public.
Long-term care facilities can accept visitors only in outdoor settings, with limited exceptions for end-of-life care and essential support personnel.
Personal services, such as barber shops and salons, are limited to 25% capacity.
Real estate open houses are prohibited. Youth and adult sports are limited to outdoor-only intrateam practices and athletes must wear masks. College and professional sports will be allowed to continue, Inslee said, citing the “rigorous protocols” they have put in place.
The new restrictions are likely to bring a wave of economic devastation to businesses and employees already crippled by the pandemic.
Anthony Anton, CEO of the Washington Hospitality Association, said Inslee’s actions were “devastating.”
“This is a tough day,” Anton said. “This likely leads to 100,000 workers out of work right before the holidays. Without a doubt, this means more permanent closures of small businesses.”
Congress has failed to pass a second round of economic relief measures, and expanded unemployment benefits and payments to businesses, passed in last spring’s relief package, expired months ago.
Democrats in the House of Representatives have passed two subsequent relief measures, but the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate has declined to act on them.
Rep. J.T. Wilcox, the Republican minority leader of the state House of Representatives, called on Inslee to announce his own economic relief package and to pass it in a special session of the Legislature.
“The Gov must announce relief efforts for restaurants & small retailers to survive his order,” Wilcox wrote on Twitter. “He must announce this at the same time he announces restrictions & they cannot wait.”
State Senate Minority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, urged Inslee to call an emergency legislative session and said senators were ready on 24 hours notice.
“We need to take a broader view of how this virus is impacting us all,” Schoesler said, citing increases in suicide and domestic violence and kids struggling with remote schooling. “There would likely be far more widespread support for safety measures if they weren’t being dictated to us by one man.”
But neither Wilcox nor Schoesler definitively said they opposed the new regulations. And other prominent state Republicans supported them.
“While I remain very concerned about the impact of this order on our already struggling small businesses and restaurants, I know that we cannot allow the rate of COVID-19 transmission to continue at its alarming pace,” said Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier, a Republican. “Without significant action, we risk overwhelming our hospitals and threatening our health care system.”
Dr. Nathan Schlicher, president of the Washington State Medical Association, said the restrictions were necessary to keep hospitals from being overburdened.
“But nothing about it is easy,” Schlicher said. “We’re all tired, I know we’re all excited about the possibility of a vaccine but that is not around the corner tomorrow and it can’t mean we ignore the work of masking up and social distancing.”
Inslee said the state has an additional $50 million in federal money to mitigate impacts on businesses and workers and will distribute it, likely through grants and loans, by the end of the year.
Senor Moose Cafe in Ballard had just reopened its dining room on Friday, after months of only serving to-go food. They had been trying to reduce exposure for their small staff.
The Mexican restaurant finally reopened its indoor room, bartender Phil West said, because business had started to decline again.
“Once places started opening back up those that wanted to eat in somewhere would just kind of skip us and go somewhere else,” West said. “So it was just out of necessity that we had to reopen.”
Out of the 11 tables the restaurant normally holds, they were only using four or five of them, West said.
With Sunday’s announcement, West said he expects the restaurant to return to just to-go orders, but, after hearing the news, his boss told him she needs to “meditate on it for a minute.”
The word of new lockdowns sent a chill through Ana Castro, co-owner of Salvadorean Bakery and Restaurant, a White Center business that already closed three months in the spring. She saw an alert from Univision on Saturday night, just in time to complicate their fall recovery.
“It’s been a very, very difficult, emotional time, working more hours, for us,” Castro said, through her blue surgical mask. “Again we have to see how we are going to keep the people employed; we may have to let people go again.” The corner shop has been in business 25 years and has 15 workers.
“We were picking up, in the summertime. It’s been hard.”
The bakery has cut seating and put dividers between tables.
Still, with between 25 and 30 people at the noon rush on Sunday, keeping 6 feet apart could be tricky.
Castro said the business got $90,000 in federal relief grants, not a huge sum for a three-month closure. Shops like hers must cover both wages and rent to weather the pandemic, she said.
“We are hoping for the politicians and government to pay attention to the small businesses, so we can survive,” Castro said.
Though Inslee cautioned there was no need for people to hoard supplies, Seattle grocery stores were busy Sunday as pandemic-related nervousness merged with holiday preparations. As at the start of the pandemic, toilet paper appeared to be the hottest commodity, leaving some stores’ shelves empty. Costco in Seattle posted a sign outside that said the store was out of toilet paper, paper towels and disinfecting wipes.
In King County, more than 500 nurses wrote a public letter, pleading with the public to wear masks, avoid gatherings and reduce travel.
“I am seeing my hospital start to fill up again with COVID-19 cases,” said Teresa Wren, a labor and delivery nurse at University of Washington Medical Center. “While we’re not at a crisis point yet, we need to come together as a community — once again — to flatten the curve so that our hospitals aren’t overwhelmed.”
Clint Wallace, a nurse at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, said intensive care units were as busy as he had ever seen them in 20 years. Health care workers, he said, were on the verge of burn out.
“We are exhausted, we are tired,” Wallace said. “We need help, we need everybody’s help.”