OLYMPIA – In an effort to stem the rising number of COVID-19 infections, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday new restrictions on bars, restaurants, gyms and other businesses, and expanded the state’s requirements for people to wear masks when in public.
“We must dig back in to gain more control,” Inslee said.
Some new rules, which include prohibiting indoor service at bars and limiting indoor seating in restaurants to members of the same household, take effect next Thursday. Restaurants must end alcohol service at 10 p.m. and keep game areas closed.
People who aren’t in the same home can be served in outdoor seating as long as they maintain 6 feet of distance.
Indoor fitness facilities in Phase 2, the reopening phase for Spokane County, will be limited to admitting no more than five people at a time, not including staff. In Phase 3, which some other Eastern Washington counties with few COVID-19 cases have reached, gyms will be limited to 25% of capacity.
Some family entertainment facilities, such as bowling alleys and indoor card rooms, will also be closed.
New restrictions will be placed on weddings and funerals, Inslee announced, starting Aug. 6. The services can take place, regardless of whether they are religious or secular, with limitations of 30 people or 20% of the room’s capacity, whichever is less. Receptions will be banned.
Inslee said he doesn’t take the new steps lightly.
“We know every prohibition is a challenge for individuals and business owners,” he said. “But we know if we fail to act, we expose people and businesses to even greater risk down the line.”
People also will be required to wear masks whenever they are out of their home, and to limit their time at gatherings, Health Secretary John Wiesman said. The new masking order starts Saturday.
The goal is to have “fewer, shorter, safer interactions,” Inslee said.
Although the masking and gathering limitations are a law, the state will rely on residents’ willingness to protect themselves and others rather than enforcement measures.
“We are not going to bring in the helicopter troops and parachute into people’s back yards,” Inslee said. “It depends on people to step up to the plate. … All I can do is ask at this point.”
Businesses have shown a high level of compliance with requirements to have customers and employees wear masks, he said.
But Washington’s infection and hospitalization numbers are moving up, to the point where the state is where Florida was about two weeks ago, he said. Florida now has such a high rate of infections and hospitalizations that the planned Republican National Convention in Jacksonville was canceled Thursday.
Early this month, Inslee ordered a “pause” in allowing different counties to move through phases to looser restrictions. That pause is scheduled to end next Tuesday, but he said it is likely to be extended.
“I see no way that would be changed given the infection rate that we’re experiencing,” he said.
The current orders have no expiration date, and the state will look for a significant reduction in the rate that an infected person passes the virus on to other people.
The state will extend the moratorium on renters being evicted for failing to pay rent because they are out of work from the pandemic. But along with the extension, the governor’s office will put together a “working group” of landlords and tenants to discuss possible changes to the moratorium.
It might also use some of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act money for rent subsidies.
The moratorium is designed to keep renters who are struggling from becoming homeless during the pandemic, not to allow people who have resources to refuse to pay.
“If you can pay rent, obviously you need to do so,” Inslee said.
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