Washington governor issues two-week stay-at-home order as COVID-19 death toll reaches at least 110
Published Tuesday, March 24, 2020 8:44AM PDT Last Updated Tuesday, March 24, 2020 12:08PM PDT
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, right, bumps elbows with a worker at the seafood counter of the Uwajimaya Asian Food and Gift Market, Tuesday, March 3, 2020, in Seattle's International District. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Ted S. Warren
OLYMPIA, WASH. -- Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday ordered nonessential businesses to close and the state's more than seven million residents to stay home unless necessary in order to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The stay-at-home order is initially in place through April 6, though officials said it will be reassessed at that time and could be extended. It expands previous actions taken by Inslee last week that ordered the statewide closure of bars, dine-in restaurants, and entertainment and recreation facilities and banned large gatherings. Several other states had already issued similar orders, including California and New York.
“This is a human tragedy on a scale we cannot yet project. It's time to hunker down in order to win this fight,” Inslee said during a televised address.
All businesses other than those deemed essential - a long list that includes grocery stores, pharmacies, banks, and gas stations - will need to close by Wednesday night. All public and private social, spiritual and recreational gatherings are also now banned, including weddings and funerals. The order's prohibition on gatherings and leaving home unless necessary takes effect immediately. People will be required to stay home unless they are pursuing an essential activity, like shopping for groceries, going to a doctor's appointment, or going to work at an essential business. People can still go for walks or runs outside if they maintain a six-foot distance from others.
As of Monday, more than 2,200 coronavirus cases have been confirmed in the state, and at least 110 people have died. For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, and the vast majority recover. But for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.
“What we're really trying to avoid is this rapid acceleration of cases,” Washington Secretary of Health John Wiesman said on a call with reporters after the governor's announcement. “Without social distancing this just keeps spreading like wildfire.”
Inslee said he was concerned that many weren't taking the outbreak seriously and were still not practicing social distancing when out. He had warned last week that he might have to move to more stringent restrictions after some Western Washington parks, beaches and trails saw large crowds during recent sunny days.
Inslee said he knows the order will add to the economic and family hardship many are already feeling, and that everyone wants things to be back to normal.
“The fastest way to get back to normal is to hit this hard,” Inslee said. “That's what we're doing.”
The governor's office said that people should not use the stay-at-home order as a reason to overstock and urged people to stick to their normal buying habits.
The state has already closed schools through late April, banned events and large gatherings and ordered bars to close and restaurants to serve only take out or delivery options. State and local leaders have continued to urge people to stay at home and practice social distancing, but not everyone is following the advice. King County Search and Rescue is now asking people to avoid hiking so that its volunteers don't have to respond and use their valued personal protective equipment if called.
Violation of the order is a gross misdemeanour, but Inslee's chief of staff, David Postman, said the goal isn't to arrest people, and that it was more likely that law enforcement would be used to disperse groups.
Inslee ended his address on a hopeful note, saying that the challenge facing the state was temporary.
“Schools will reopen. Weddings will happen. Factories will start again and you'll be able to toast the end of this at your favourite hangout as soon as possible because we are hitting this hard,” he said, but called on residents to “enlist themselves in this tumultuous struggle.”
“We can get through this together,” he said.
Earlier Monday, Boeing announced it was shutting down its Seattle-area production facilities for two weeks. In a written statement, Inslee said he applauded Boeing's decision “to implement an orderly shutdown and continue to pay its workers during this difficult time.”
President Donald Trump on Sunday issued a major disaster declaration for Washington and ordered federal assistance for the state, tribal and local response to the outbreak.
Also, nursing homes continued to be hard hit by the virus. Shuksan Healthcare Center, a skilled nursing centre in Bellingham, had 29 new cases confirmed on Sunday, according to the Whatcom County Health Department. The Bellingham Herald reports 23 of the new cases were residents while six were Shuksan employees.
And federal regulators on Monday said they found serious infractions during their check of a Seattle-area nursing home hard-hit by the coronavirus and they're giving it three weeks to fix them. They found that the Life Care Center of Kirkland failed to rapidly identify and manage sick residents; failed to notify the Washington Department of Health about the increasing rate of respiratory infections among residents; and failed to have a backup plan in the absence of Life Care's primary clinician, who fell ill.
At least 37 deaths have been linked to the COVID-19 outbreak at the Life Care Center.