A few hours before Gov. Jay Inslee announced his plans to sign a stay-at-home order prohibiting all public gatherings and shutting down non-essential businesses, Edmonds Mayor Mike Nelson hosted a news conference to explain the reasoning behind his own stay-at-home order issued Sunday night in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Inslee’s statewide order, announced Monday, in effect does the same things that Nelson’s order does: requires people to stay at home but allows for recreational activities like walking (as long as you maintain the now-familiar social distance of 6 feet) and closes non-essential businesses (with a long list of exceptions for those deemed critical to public infrastructure).
The main difference, for now, is possible enforcement. Nelson’s order states that violations are a misdemeanor, subject to a $500 fine and/or 90 days in jail. Inslee, on the other hand, said he expects businesses and residents to voluntarily comply with his directive — and will discuss possible enforcement mechanisms if residents and businesses do not comply.
However, at a news conference Monday afternoon, Nelson said that the city’s enforcement focus will be on education. And Acting Edmonds Police Chief Jim Lawless, who appeared with the mayor Monday, reinforced Nelson’s stance. “While there are law enforcement components to this order, we are seeking voluntary compliance,” Lawless said. “We are by no means going to go around and actively seek out individuals to see if they are complying with the order.
“It’s a very, very last resort that we would cite someone,” Lawless added.
Nelson said he issued his order because Edmonds has the oldest population in Snohomish County, with 25% of its demographic being senior citizens. “My job as mayor of Edmonds is keep you safe,” Nelson said.
The mayor also noted — as Inslee did in his later televised address — that many people were not complying with earlier requests by public officials to practice social distancing and avoid large gatherings. In particular, Nelson mentioned that Edmonds’ beaches and parks last weekend “were full of people.”
While Nelson’s order — like Inslee’s — includes exceptions for a variety of activities and also for businesses deemed as critical, the mayor said he didn’t want to focus on what people can do, but ways to protect everyone. “The whole idea here is we’re trying to keep people home,” he said.
Before Inslee’s order was announced, local businesses deemed non-essential were already reacting to the Edmonds order and the news that they had to shut down — a fact that would have been inevitable anyway with the governor’s order.
Mary Kay Sneeringer, owner of the Edmonds Bookshop, at first was hopeful that she could continue efforts to fulfill orders by phone, email and online at the bookshop — which had been closed to browsing customers — then deliver them to customers’ doorsteps for free. After getting clarification from the mayor’s office, Sneeringer decided to close the bookshop altogether — although people can still order online at edmondsbookshop.com. The books will be shipped directly from the wholesaler, she said.
Another shop closing is ARTspot, which had been accommodating social distancing by doing curbside deliveries for customers who didn’t want to come into the Edmonds store. Owner Tracy Felix said she went into the store Monday to place “We are Closed” signs in the windows, change the phone message and update the website. “We are looking forward to everyone getting well,” Felix said. “In the meantime, it’s a good time to journal, draw, paint, and read some good books.”
Kiimberly Koenig, owner of women’s clothing shop Rogue, said she closed her store last week — prior to the stay-at-home orders — and is focused on online-only sales.
“We will get through this,” Nelson said Monday. “We will recover and that we will have a day when can go out and our children can play in the playgrounds and cheer them on when they are playing baseball. But to get to that day, we need to take these steps to keep them safe.”
— Story and photos by Teresa Wippel