Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Sunday morning announced new COVID-19 restrictions that will ban indoor service for restaurants and bars, close indoor fitness facilities and gyms, limit the capacity of retail stores and religious services.
The new restrictions come as Washington sees consistent increasing daily case counts, with over 2,000 cases a day over the weekend and average cases in the state doubling over the past two weeks.
All orders go into effect at 11:59 p.m. Monday, Nov. 16 except for the restrictions on bars and restaurants. Those become effective at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 18. The restrictions are limited to four weeks but could be extended if progress isn’t made, Inslee said.
To help mitigate financial impacts on businesses and their employees, Inslee said the state is committing $50 million in aid. Businesses can also apply for Paycheck Protection Plan forgivable loans from the Small Business Administration, or from their local bank. If workers are kept in their jobs, the loans aren’t required to be paid back.
“We cannot take lightly the impact on business,” Inslee said, “but this is clear. We cannot enjoy a full economic recorvery, which we all desperately want, without knocking down this virus.”
Activities not included in the modified restrictions should follow current guidance. All K-12/higher education, child care, and courts and court-related proceedings are exempt from the new restrictions.
Indoor gatherings with people outside the household will be prohibited unless they quarantine for the 14 days prior to the social gathering or quarantine for the seven days prior to the gathering, and receive a negative COVID-19 test result no more than 48 hours prior to the gathering. Outdoor gatherings are limited to no more than five people.
Answering a question about enforcement of restrictions on home gatherings, Inslee said the public should not expect “state troopers to be coming to your door if you’re having a big Thanksgiving dinner.” The idea instead “is to raise the consciousness of this issue” to encourage compliance, the governor added.
For long-term care facilities, only outdoor visits will be allowed. Indoor visits may be permitted for essential support persons or end-of-life care.
Restaurants and retail
Restaurants and bars will be closed for indoor service, with to-go services and restricted outdoor dining allowed.
In-store retail, grocery stores and personal services (for example, hair and nail salons) are limited to 25% of occupancy and must close any areas where people congregate.
Entertainment and fitness
Indoor service will be closed at fitness facilities and gyms, and youth and adult amateur sporting activities are limited to outdoors only with facial coverings.
Bowling alleys, museums, zoos, aquariums, and movie theaters will be closed for indoor services.
Religious services, weddings and funerals
Religious services will be limited to 25% indoor capacity or 200 people, whichever is less, and choirs, bands or ensembles are prohibited from performing. Wedding and funeral ceremonies can go on with limited attendance, but receptions of any size are prohibited indoors.
Responding to the governor’s announcement, Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers said that “action must be taken to save lives and the capacity of our health care system. Our state has reached a tipping point where doing nothing is not an option. Clearly, the status quo is not working.
“We will do all we can in Snohomish County to protect our most vulnerable residents, preserve our medical capacity, and keep our small businesses functioning,” Somers continued. “I am very worried about impacts to our local economy, particularly after the rough year we’ve had. I will continue to be a strong advocate for more federal funding to help us through this wave of the pandemic. We are all beyond frustrated with the need for these measures, but they are necessary to push the curve back down. We’ve done it before and can do it again.”
Dr. Chris Spitters, Snohomish Health District health officer, said that while he regrets that such restrictions are necessary, “we need to put on the brakes now to keep from overwhelming the already stressed health care system. These aren’t across-the-board shutdowns, but rather a strategic freeze within those sectors and situations that are linked to this recent surge in cases. We need everyone to join in and respect the restrictions to turn this around,” Spitters said.
Following Inslee’s announcment, State Employment Security Department Commissioner Suzi LeVine said her department “stands ready to assist any affected Washington workers while we all strive to curb the spread of COVID-19 in our communities. Whether customers need to restart their claim or are coming to us for the first time, all the information they need can be found at esd.wa.gov.”