OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday announced an extension of his emergency stay-home order through May 4 to halt the spread of the new coronavirus.
Thursday’s announcement extends by nearly a month Inslee’s order that closed thousands of businesses, public schools and much of society as the state continues to battle cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.
The extension means the entire stay-home order will remain in effect a full six weeks, through 11:59 p.m. Monday, May 4. That makes Tuesday, May 5, the first day for businesses and other activities to open.
In a news conference, Inslee said that “the fastest way to economic recovery is for a recovery of our health, which is fundamental to all we hold dear.”
“To save lives, to rescue Washington’s economy, we’ve got to preserve lives and defeat this virus,” he added later.
In a statement, Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, and chief Senate Republican budget writer, called the governor’s move a “sound decision.”
But, “We need to do what we can to preserve critical industries, such as residential construction, so that temporary job loss does not become permanent, homelessness does not worsen and food shortages don’t develop,” he said in the statement.
First announced on March 23, the stay-at-home order is aimed at keeping people indoors and restricting as much interaction as possible. Some businesses deemed essential — like grocery stores, pharmacies and gas stations — remain open.
The order also kept in place and strengthened earlier restrictions that temporarily banned sporting events and concerts and closed bars and nail salons.
Restaurants can still provide takeout, but not dine-in service. A host of other businesses are considered “nonessential” and are shuttered. Many construction projects have fallen silent.
As of 11:59 p.m. April 1, there were 6,585 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 262 deaths, according to the state Department of Health.
Restaurateur Ethan Stowell said Thursday the May 4 extension will put his and other bars and restaurants further in the red, but “this is the correct thing to do. If we need to extend to May 4 or even June 4 — whatever is required, I’m all for it,” Stowell said.
“Everyone is suffering right now,” said Stowell, who owns 15 restaurants, including Frelard Pizza, Cortina and Tavolata, and who has had to lay off more than 125 of his employees. “The quickest way to getting back to normal is getting this thing knocked out once and for all. If it needs to be extended, then we need to do that, too,” he added.
Since announcing the original stay-home order, Inslee has issued a handful of clarifications that re-opened some activities.
The governor previously lifted a ban on funerals, though they are still tightly restricted.
And in an update this week, he deemed essential other businesses such as automotive repair shops, private campgrounds and commercial fishing and geoduck operations.
In that order, the governor also named some automotive sales and leasing activities as essential, along with renewable energies.
Braun called on Inslee to be more transparent about the specific metrics he’s using to make decisions about lifting the restrictions, saying, “he owes the people maximum transparency on this issue.”
Still, the coronavirus pandemic has brought economic activity — across the nation and in Washington — to a shuddering halt. More than 180,000 state residents last week filed for unemployment insurance.
Cascading from workers’ wallets to business sales and on to tax collections, the sudden economic hibernation is expected to take a bite out of Washington’s two-year operating budget. The spending blueprint funds schools, parks, prisons and social-service plans.
Accordingly, Inslee said Thursday night that he would veto parts of the supplemental budget passed last month by lawmakers in order to reduce state spending.
Since state and local governments have restricted gatherings, there have been glimmers of hope the social-distancing measures being practiced might be having a positive impact in Washington.
Meanwhile, Washington medical workers remain short of personal protective gear — such as gloves, gowns, masks and face shields — to protect them on the front lines of the outbreak.
Inslee on Wednesday called on manufacturing companies in the state to produce those items, if possible, as well as components needed for test kits.
The governor has stressed that without adequate testing capabilities, it will be hard for the state to lift all its restrictions.
As the pandemic quickly overwhelmed social rhythms and societal norms, some have already grown to expect daily life won’t quickly snap back to normal.
James Weimann, who owns a dozen restaurants including Rhein Haus on Capitol Hill and Bastille Café & Bar in Ballard, was already bracing for the stay-home order to extend to June.
“In the restaurant business, none of us have income coming in and bills are still coming in, and we are still paying for employee health insurance. We are hunkering down for the long haul. Safety first. We worry about business later.”
The Seattle Times food writer Tan Vinh contributed to this report.