OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee Thursday announced several new restrictions intended to dampen a rise in new coronavirus cases, including a statewide order to take effect next week barring businesses from serving customers who don’t wear facial coverings.
In a news conference, the governor also announced other new restrictions. Inslee put a two-week pause on any county advancing to a broader phase in the his four-part reopening plan. And he tightened restrictions on bars opening back up under the third phase of that plan.
Thursday’s announcement came as Washington reported 716 new coronavirus cases — the state’s highest daily total since the beginning of the pandemic — including three more deaths.
The update brings the state’s totals to 34,151 cases and 1,342 deaths, meaning about 3.9% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the state Department of Health (DOH). The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Wednesday.
So far, 584,989 tests for the novel coronavirus have been conducted in the state, per DOH. Of those, 5.8% have come back positive since testing began.
Inslee pointed to virus modeling showing that the transmission rate of the virus — meaning the number of people a sick person goes on to infect — has increased in Western Washington.
The governor attributed the increasing cases to people interacting more across the state as restrictions on businesses and activities lifted over the past couple months.
“It means the pandemic is growing, not slowing, in our state,” said Inslee.
And Washington is not alone. Texas, California, Arizona and Florida are reporting record numbers of daily infections, into the thousands each day.
To reverse that trend here, Inslee is urging residents to use a “very, very low-cost, noninjurious, almost universally available tool at our disposal.”
“And that’s a mask,” he said, while donning his own mask during the news conference. “Which we know works.”
The statewide requirement for businesses to prohibit customers from entering without a facial covering essentially expands an order Inslee announced last week that focused just on Yakima County, one of Washington’s hardest-hit places. The governor at that time also ordered state residents to wear masks while in public when they couldn’t social distance themselves from others.
Businesses that don’t comply with the new statewide order, which will take effect July 7, could face sanctions, such as fines or potential closures.
“But we don’t want to use those systems, and should not have to,” Inslee said.
People can complain via an online form on the state’s coronavirus website anonymously, a feature that officials made more clear and prominent after groups opposed to virus-related emergency restrictions posted names and contact information for residents making complaints.
People can also contact the state Department of Labor and Industries, which will lead enforcement on the requirements, according to Inslee’s office.
Requirements to wear facial coverings have increased around the nation as elected officials and health authorities seek to tamp down what has become an alarming rise in new COVID-19 cases.
Meanwhile, Inslee on Thursday announced a new restriction that still allows bars in counties in the third phase of reopening to start back up, but without bar seating. Customers will still be able to sit at tables in those establishments.
And the governor and state Secretary of Health John Wiesman put in place a two-week pause on any county advancing to a new — and less restrictive — reopening phase in the plan. That pause puts on hold applications made by counties that haven’t yet gotten approval.
Wiesman called the rise in cases “very concerning” and urged state residents to take precautions over the holiday weekend.
“This is not the time for extended family or friends, neighborhood birthday parties, retirements or Fourth of July barbecues,” he said during the news conference. “It’s a time to keep enjoying your immediate household and a very small, close circle of friends, if you must.”
Meanwhile, Inslee relaxed a set of restrictions for three hard-hit counties that have been stuck in the first — and most restrictive — phase of the four-part plan.
State officials will work with Benton, Franklin and Yakima counties to move them to a modified Phase 1 to let some activities resume. That move is intended to keep residents there from going to other counties for services, and comes as more people in the region begin to wear facial coverings.
Even as Inslee and state officials confront a rising number of cases, appetite appears to be fading for a special session of the Legislature to work on the $8.8 billion virus-related budget shortfall estimated through 2023.
House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said Thursday that lawmakers wouldn’t return over the summer, as has been tentatively discussed.
And in his news conference, Inslee said the state has enough funds to wait until lawmakers return in January for their regularly scheduled session.
Republicans, who are in the minority in the state House and Senate, have called for a special session — ideally last month — to begin working on budget issues.