OLYMPIA – With the number of deaths and infections from the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to rise, Washington residents are being told to stay home for at least another month as the state tries to stem the tide. Nonessential businesses will also remain closed through April and into the first week of May.
Gov. Jay Inslee announced this evening he was extending his “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order past next week’s original deadline of April 6. May 4 is “absolutely the soonest we can achieve our ends to keep our loved ones safe,” he said.
“We have yet to see the full weight of this virus in our state,” Inslee added. “We cannot lose steam in the middle of this fight.”
Dr. Kathy Lofy, state health officer, said the best estimate in most recent date modeling by the University of Washington indicates the virus outbreak will peak around April 11. But the date moves around as the data fed into the model changes, she added.
That modeling also suggests more than 1,000 deaths in the state, Inslee said. The order could be extended again if health experts think it’s necessary to keep COVID-19 from “springing up again,” he added.
“The science is clear: More people will die if restrictions stop,” he said.
There were no new restrictions in the extension, which Inslee announced during a news conference with some of the top state officials leading the fight against the virus that has infected more than 6,500 state residents and killed at least 262, most of them in three Puget Sound metropolitan counties. Spokane County has 182 confirmed cases and five deaths.
There are also no changes that lift current restrictions at this time. Inslee has been lobbied heavily to lift the restrictions on residential construction, but he said that would put people at risk by working in close quarters.
“We made that decision. It stands,” he said.
The stay-home order does not completely isolate people who have not tested positive for COVID-19. Instead it bans large gatherings and encourages people to stay home but permits time outside for walks, runs or bike rides, as long as 6-foot social-distancing guidelines are followed for anyone not living in the same home.
State parks are closed to keep people from gathering there. The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, a major source of income for that part of Washington, is canceled, Inslee said, and people should stop trying to visit the fields of flowers and instead make plans to go next year.
Driving is restricted to essential travel, such as to a store for supplies, to a restaurant for takeout food or to work for people in essential jobs. A description of essential jobs can be found here.
Lofy said health officials are discussing whether to advise people who go out to wear masks, which have been in short supply, and “hope for a recommendation soon.”
The extension of the stay-home order to May 4 takes it past the time when the state’s schools are currently set to reopen on April 27. The statewide school closure order, which comes from Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal, has not been extended, although Inslee said they are “having discussions about the next steps we will take.”
With another spike in unemployment claims last week and revenue from the state’s tax-consumption-base dropping, the operating budget approved on March 12 by the Legislature could eventually be out of balance.
When signing that budget last Friday, Inslee said he will make line-item vetoes “to give us a cushion.” He declined to detail the cuts, but said some vetoes will involve programs he supports, but which the state can’t currently afford. He added he could call a special session at some point.
“If it is necessary, we certainly will do that,” Inslee said.