OLYMPIA – State officials will employ greater restrictions if some residents don’t follow the current orders to stay home as much as possible and away from groups in social situations, Gov. Jay Inslee warned Friday.
On a day when other governors had issued statewide stay-at-home orders to stop the spread of COVID-19, Inslee said he wasn’t going to do that yet. But he made it clear he could in the future.
“I’m asking you – you may say I’m pleading with you – to stay home unless it’s necessary for you to go out,” he said at an afternoon news conference on a day when rumors abounded that Washington would follow California and other states in ordering restrictions on activities and travel. “We are all possible transmitters of this virus and we are all possible victims of this virus.”
Washington has so far accomplished what other states are trying to do with the orders currently in place, he said, and “might be able to avoid other orders.” State health and emergency operations officials are reviewing data on a daily and sometimes hourly basis, and that type of statewide order could be in the future.
Data they are considering include traffic patterns as a sign that social interactions are down, emergency room admissions for COVID-19-like symptoms and the number of positive tests. But there’s no algorithm that will make the determination, he said.
“The virus has thrown some curveballs at different times in different places,” he said.
Display boards behind him showed the state has conducted 20,742 tests for the virus, with 7% coming back positive and 93% negative. It is expecting shipments over the weekend from a national stockpile of more than 1.6 million respirators, 560,000 surgical masks, 12 million disposable gloves, 650,000 disposable gowns and 74,000 canisters of disposable wipes – all items that medical personnel involved in treating COVID-19 patients say are in short supply.
Another board showed Washington Department of Transportation data for reductions in traffic since March 1 – the day after he issued the first emergency declaration – at various toll facilities in Western Washington. It showed traffic down 61% Wednesday at the State Route station in Seattle but down only 24% on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.
Traffic counts in Spokane also were down but by less than some West Side locations, Inslee said. Data from the Transportation Department supplied by the governor’s staff showed peak morning traffic on Interstate 90 on Wednesday was down about 25% compared to the beginning of March and was down about 30% on U.S. 395.
Inslee also said he was asking businesses to allow employees to stay home who are over 65 or have compromising health conditions that make them more susceptible to serious complications from the virus. Those employees will be allowed to receive unemployment compensation while off work and get their job back when the pandemic is over, he said.
That’s not currently a legally binding order, although state attorneys were studying whether that could be done through an executive order or require special legislation, he said.
Other emergency orders that include the closing of bars and sit-down service at restaurants and limits on gatherings could be enforced with legal penalties, with charges of gross misdemeanors, under the state’s emergency powers law. But that shouldn’t be necessary, Inslee said.
Earlier in the day, Inslee’s staff addressed the proliferation of rumors that Washington was about to institute stay-at-home, “shelter in place” orders similar to California, Illinois and Michigan.
“It’s one of the persistent rumors,” chief of staff David Postman said. “We don’t feel it’s necessary to take that next step today.”
Before issuing such an order, the governor would consult with the state secretary of health, National Guard leaders, state emergency operations and attorneys, Postman said. It would also be possible to issue the order for part but not all of the state, depending on the data, he added.
“No one should think we’re done imposing orders to keep people safe,” Postman said.
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