OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday urged Washingtonians to cancel plans for social gatherings, including Thanksgiving and Christmas get-togethers, citing rising rates of coronavirus infections in the state.
“Simply put, we have to rethink these holidays,” Inslee said in a televised address.
Inslee and his wife, Trudi, said their own family would forgo its traditional in-person Thanksgiving of a potluck, touch football and turkey sandwiches due to the danger of the pandemic.
They urged people to not gather with friends or family outside their households.
“Please do not have Thanksgiving gatherings, unless you’re positive that everyone there has quarantined successfully for 14 days,” the governor said. “Which would start today.”
Inslee expressed confidence this would be a one-year sacrifice by families, saying a vaccine should be on the way by next year.
“But this year it’s just too dangerous to gather together indoors where the virus can spread so easily,” he said, adding, “we cannot wait until our hospital halls are lined with gurneys before we take decisive action.”
In the coming days, Inslee will announce “further measures” to curb the spread of the virus, he said, which “will affect what we do outside of the home.”
The governor’s office has been “reaching out to stakeholders in various sectors and industries for their input on proposals to restrict activities,” wrote spokesperson Mike Faulk in an email.
“As with previous restrictions, the goal is to reduce how often people are likely to come into contact with people from outside their household, limiting the spread, and preventing our health care system from being overwhelmed,” added Faulk.
Thursday’s address by the governor and first lady come as cases of the virus soar across the country, straining hospital systems and setting the country up for a grim winter. Cases in many Western states, including Montana, Oregon and Idaho, have exploded in recent weeks.
On Thursday evening, Washington health officials reported that over the past two days, 3,345 coronavirus cases and 25 deaths have been confirmed here.
That brings the total number of diagnoses in Washington to 123,356, including 2,507 deaths, according to the state Department of Health. At least 9,178 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus.
Oregon health officials Thursday reported a new daily record there of 1,122 confirmed cases, according to news reports.
Washington health officials take into account a number of data points and trends when deciding on whether to implement more restrictions. One of the more alarming numbers at the moment is the increasing number of COVID-19 patients in ICUs across the state.
On Nov. 6, there were about 404 confirmed coronavirus-positive patients in Washington hospitals, and 53 of those were in the ICU. As of midday Thursday there were 603 confirmed coronavirus-positive patients in the hospital and 110 of those patients were in the ICU, said Dr. Kathy Lofy, the state’s health officer.
“We’re concerned if we have in six more days another 60 patients in our ICUs, and then six days later have another 60 patients in our ICUs. Or if it accelerates more than that we could exceed our ICU capacity,” Lofy said. “It’s a little bit hard to tell exactly when, but we’re alarmed by how quickly the numbers are growing.”
With the nation’s first recorded case in January, and first recorded deaths in February, Washington emerged as the early epicenter of the virus.
Since the pandemic exploded in Washington in March, Inslee and health officials have imposed limits on social gatherings and issued emergency orders requiring people to wear face coverings.
The governor also imposed restrictions on businesses, intended to limit interactions and thus slow the spread of the virus.
That early order to shutter “nonessential” businesses by late spring morphed into a four-phase reopening plan that allowed counties with better public health metrics to reopen more widely.
The governor and health officials paused that plan over the summer as cases spiked, though Inslee in October eased some restrictions for counties east of the Cascade Mountains that had been hit hard over the summer.
As in other states, the steep drop in daily activity in the face of the virus caused unemployment in Washington to soar, putting people’s livelihoods in jeopardy.
At the same time, some business owners and conservatives have complained that the restrictions were too heavy-handed, were unfair or would strangle their operations.
Some business leaders welcomed Inslee’s focus Thursday on private family gatherings and on personal actions — and hoped it signaled fewer business restrictions in any future COVID-19 response by the state.
“We can’t afford to go backwards on this issue … and close more companies,” said Kris Johnson, president of the Association of Washington Business. “We can’t afford to go backwards and have more people lose their jobs.
“Wear a mask, save a job, take personal responsibility for your actions at home,” he added.
Seattle Times business reporter Paul Roberts contributed to this story.