OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday announced a limit of 10 people at social gatherings in Washington counties that are further along in the reopening process as the state sees a rise in COVID-19 cases.
Inslee’s announcement came as Washington set a new record for confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, with state health officials Thursday reporting 1,267 new cases and six additional deaths.
The tally clocked in at nearly twice the average number of cases per day in the past two weeks.
In a news conference, Inslee warned of more drastic actions if the state can’t tamp down outbreaks of the new coronavirus, which are simmering across Washington.
The state could soon reimpose restrictions on bars, restaurants and recreational activities, Inslee said. Officials could ultimately take even more drastic measures.
“We cannot rule out the potential of another stay-home order this year,” the governor said.
The 10-person limit on social gatherings takes effect Monday for counties that are in the third phase of the governor’s four-part coronavirus reopening plan.
King, Pierce and Snohomish counties remain in the second phase of the plan. That phase’s five-person limit on social gatherings will remain in place.
But more than 15 counties are right now in the plan’s third – and currently least-restrictive – phase. They include Thurston, Island, Grays Harbor, Pacific, Whitman and Kittitas counties.
The new limit will not apply to weddings, funerals or religious services, or to businesses operating indoors, like gyms or retail stores.
It will apply to social gatherings held outdoors or indoors such as live, in-person concerts, at-home gatherings or other entertainment. The new order also will apply to drive-in concerts.
Inslee said he hoped this latest restriction serves as a reminder to King, Snohomish, Pierce and other counties operating under tighter restrictions on social gatherings.
“That these social activities now are becoming increasingly the causative factor of this disease,” he said. “And as time goes on, this becomes more and more apparent.”
The state has made gains in the business community with safety guidelines to protect against the virus and the wearing of facial coverings, he said.
“But what we have gained perhaps in the business community, we have lost in the social setting,” he said.
The state has taken little enforcement action based on the governor’s emergency orders and local agencies have sometimes been reluctant to enforce the laws. But Inslee said the new restrictions on gatherings could be enforced.
Health officials have been grappling with a troubling rise in new infections across Washington, at the same time the virus has surged across the American South and West.
Inslee on Tuesday announced a pause on any county‘s advance to a new phase of reopening until at least July 28. Earlier this month, the governor implemented a statewide measure prohibiting businesses from serving customers who aren’t wearing facial coverings.
The state’s weekly rolling average of new COVID-19 cases continues to rise, Inslee said Thursday, in “a very disturbing pattern of continual, consistent increase.”
In a seven-day average through July 2, the state saw about 629 new cases daily, Inslee said, the highest during the pandemic.
Outbreaks that early on were limited largely to long-term care facilities and food-processing centers are now also being identified in businesses, manufacturing settings, restaurants and some child care centers, State Health Officer Kathy Lofy said earlier this week.