By Friday morning, the governors of New York and California had ordered — with significant exceptions — all their residents to stay home, to try to limit, as much as possible, the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Other states soon followed: New Jersey, Connecticut, Illinois. At least 1 in 5 Americans have been ordered to stay home.
Residents of Western Washington, where the outbreak hit first and, initially, hardest, have not.
Instead, Gov. Jay Inslee is doing everything he can to keep people from leaving the house without outright ordering it.
“I’m asking you, and you may say I am pleading with you, to stay home; stay home unless it is necessary that you go out,” Inslee said at a teleconference Friday. “I am exercising every ounce of the bully pulpit authority that I have.
“If anyone is living a normal life today, you are not doing what we need for you to do if we are going to save lives in this state,” Inslee said, adding that a legally binding order could still be coming if people don’t change their habits.
Officials here say the steps they have taken — closing schools, restaurants and theaters; banning large gatherings; and urging people to stay home — are tantamount to the “stay home” orders other states have issued, even as they’re not as stringent and don’t go quite as far.
“People are using inconsistent nomenclature,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a Thursday interview with The Seattle Times, referring to the “shelter in place” orders in other cities and states. Other states, even the ones with the strictest orders in effect, still allow people to leave the house for grocery shopping, for walks and even to go to “essential” workplaces.
“We absolutely need people to stay at home unless they need to go out,” Durkan said. “But if we need to turn the dial more, we will.”
There is a difference, though, between urging people to stay home and ordering it.
“Shelter in place is very powerful and I think does drive home a message to an individual that it’s about them,” said David Postman, Inslee’s chief of staff. “Messaging does have an effect, we know for sure.”
Postman said they’ve had lengthy and technical discussions about whether to issue such an order, but don’t feel it’s necessary yet to shut down more businesses.
“There are profound economic consequences to families in the state of Washington if we make a decision of that nature,” Inslee said.
Inslee on Friday cited state traffic data as evidence that social distancing is happening in some parts of the state, although not as much as is needed, he said. Traffic is down 61% on the 99 tunnel through Seattle and it’s down 59% on the 520 bridge, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation. But it’s only down 34% on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, and only 28% on State Route 167 in south King County.
“This is not enough,” Inslee said.
There have been 1,524 confirmed cases of the virus in Washington and 83 deaths, the state Department of Health said Friday, an increase of 148 cases and nine deaths in the last day.
Whereas Washington has urged all businesses to allow employees to work from home, New York and California have ordered it. Whereas Washington officials continue to plead with residents to stay home as much as possible, New York and California have ordered it, albeit with those exceptions.
“Shutting things down as much as possible is the only approach we have, especially short term,” said Arnold Monto, a professor of epidemiology and global health at the University of Michigan. The most important thing, Monto said, is to ensure social distancing happens as soon as possible, regardless of what is mandated or not.
Even things like local culture and mores can play into the orders that may be necessary, Monto, a former adviser to the World Health Organization, said.
“It’s so hard to assess exactly what is necessary or what cause and effect is in terms of some of these approaches,” Monto said. “I think things depend on local attitudes and local adherence to recommendations. You’re in a place where people wait for the walk indicator at crosswalks, whereas if you did that in New York, you’d have a different response.”
Public Health — Seattle & King County, in a prepared statement, said the measures already in place here “have already significantly restricted the activities of King County residents, similar to what might be accomplished via a shelter in place order.”
“Our strong directives regarding events and retail in King County,” the agency wrote, “have been effective in limiting close social contact and reducing spread of disease.”
Judith Malmgren, a Seattle epidemiologist, said the directives aren’t clear enough — that people don’t understand what is allowed and what is not.
“As a citizen, I’m confused,” Malmgren said. “Everybody is confused. And that’s where the ‘stay at home’ order is clarification.”
Staff writer Joseph O’Sullivan contributed to this report.