Gov. Jay Inslee will announce sweeping new restrictions Sunday to curb surging COVID-19 cases, including a ban on both indoor social gatherings and indoor service at restaurants and bars, closures of businesses such as gyms, and sharp occupancy limits for retailers and others, according to industry officials briefed by the governor’s staff.
A spokesperson for the governor would not confirm those reports, but also did not dispute details being circulated by industry associations about the restrictions, which are expected to take effect in the coming days.
Inslee has scheduled a news conference for 11 a.m. Sunday.
The restrictions had yet to be finalized Saturday, but appeared to confirm the most stringent scenarios that had emerged shortly after Inslee hinted Thursday that new measures were coming.
Set to last for four weeks, the new restrictions would limit retailers, such as grocery and convenience stores, as well as nail salons, to 25% of occupancy, according to those officials. Gyms, bowling alleys, museums, movie theaters and aquariums would be required to close, industry officials said.
Taken together, the rules would represent some of the tightest constraints placed on everyday activities in Washington since Inslee in March issued his original emergency stay-at-home order as the pandemic exploded across the state.
Like many other states, Washington is now tallying far more daily COVID-19 cases than the earlier peaks that hit in spring and summer.
State health officials Saturday confirmed a record-high 2,233 coronavirus cases in Washington. That brings the total to 127,731, which includes 2,519 deaths, according to the state Department of Health. The Department of Health no longer reports COVID-related deaths on weekends.
“The governor’s office is looking at some possible restrictions so we can get the COVID cases down again,” Tammie Hetrick, president & CEO of the Washington Food Industry Association (WFIA) told The Seattle Times on Saturday. Hetrick said that earlier Saturday, the governor’s staff had provided the association with preliminary outlines of the restrictions, which were to be announced Sunday morning.
The Washington Hospitality Association said it also received a preliminary outline of the four-week restrictions from the governor’s staff, said WHA President Anthony Anton in an email Saturday to members.
Inslee spokesperson Tara Lee did not dispute the industry groups’ accounts of the restrictions.
But that information does not give a complete picture of the governor’s expected announcement, according to Lee.
“We are not disputing the details and will provide more information on Sunday,” she wrote.
In an email sent to WFIA members obtained by The Seattle Times, Hetrick said the governor’s staff had indicated Inslee was considering four main restrictions.
These included a prohibition on all indoor social gatherings and a ban on all indoor service at bars and restaurants. Outdoor service would be restricted to five people, but takeout service will be allowed to continue. Under current restrictions, bars and restaurants can operate at 50% of capacity.
The new restrictions also would limit retailers, including grocery and convenience stores, to 25% of occupancy, would ban any indoor seating and require that delis and salad bar products be sold to go, Hetrick’s email said.
Hetrick’s email said that Inslee “will also be updating guidance on mask restrictions, which will clearly indicate that stores and other customer-facing businesses will have a choice to restrict all non-mask wearers in the store and provide other options for providing food and other essential products.”
Industry officials offered different accounts of when the restrictions would take effect, with some saying Monday and others saying early Wednesday. They also said it was unclear how restrictions on indoor social gatherings would be enforced.
Businesses have remained worried about the steep economic drop-off in Washington and elsewhere as cases surged and states imposed restrictions on commerce and social activities.
Public-facing sectors such as retail and food service have experienced a disproportionate share of the layoffs and losses related to COVID-19.
Restaurants, many of which are still operating at only a fraction of their pre-pandemic revenue and staff, now face new restrictions even as cold weather was making jury-rigged outdoor dining operations more difficult.
“It’s a death knell — it’s going to kill us,” said Chad Mackay, CEO of Fire & Vine, which owns El Gaucho and several other Seattle area restaurants.
In a text message, state Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, criticized the new restrictions, saying the governor was jeopardizing “tens of thousands” of jobs when federal benefits such as the Paycheck Protection Program and higher unemployment pay that helped businesses and workers earlier this year have not been reauthorized.
“No PPP this time around for restaurant owners,” wrote Mullet, who owns three Ben & Jerry’s ice cream stores and a Zeeks Pizza. “No enhanced employment for workers. All really important reasons to not do this right now.”
Inslee and health officials have warned that steps must be taken to avoid exponential growth of the disease, even as new cases and hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients have increased.
On Thursday, the governor and first lady Trudi Inslee urged state residents to cancel plans for social gatherings, like Thanksgiving get-togethers.
On Friday, Inslee announced Washington would join California and Oregon in recommending that residents undergo a 14-day self-quarantine if they are leaving or entering the state.
Inslee’s pending announcement comes as other states impose tougher rules to combat spread of the virus.
On Friday, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced a two-week measure that limits bars and restaurants to only takeout, and closes gyms and indoor and outdoor recreational facilities statewide for that period.
The same day, North Dakota’s governor ordered a statewide mask mandate and imposed several business restrictions in what has become one of the world’s worst outbreaks of the virus.
Earlier in the week, Utah’s governor also ordered a statewide mask mandate to try to stop a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations that is stressing hospital capacity there.