Stay home unless absolutely necessary or your job is essential, Gov. Jay Inslee told Washington residents Monday night.
Inslee signed an emergency order he calls “Stay home, stay healthy” that increases previous steps the state has taken to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is similar to orders issued in California, some other states and large metropolitan areas.
“This is a human tragedy on a scale we can’t yet predict,” Inslee said. “The fastest way to get back to normal is to hit this hard.”
The two-week order includes an immediate ban on gatherings and requires non-essential businesses to close by Wednesday evening.
The goal of the new order is to slow down the rate of infection, spreading it out over time and decreasing the pressure on the hospital system from serious cases, State Health Secretary John Wiesman said.
“We expect everyone in our state to comply with this order voluntarily,” he said. If that doesn’t happen, the state could take enforcement actions against those who are so “socially irresponsible” they put others at risk, he added.
Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste said that while knowingly violating the order could result in a gross misdemeanor charge, troopers and other law enforcement officers will focus on educating people who are violating the order by gathering in groups outside.
That could change if reports of large gatherings in parks or beaches continue, David Postman, Inslee’s chief of staff said.
If that happens “I don’t doubt for a minute he’s going to ask for some enforcement,” Postman said, like having officers walk up to groups of people and ask them to disperse.
The order, which could be extended, requires every state resident to stay home unless involved in an essential activity. That would include shopping for groceries, going to a doctor’s appointment or going to work at an essential business.
Going outside for a walk, a bike ride or to garden is OK, Inslee said, as long as people keep a safe “social distance” of 6 feet between anyone not living in the same residence.
“While we minimize our physical connections it is essential we maximize our emotional connections,” he said.
The list of essential business types is long, nearly 14 pages with categories that include medical facilities, pharmacies and energy and food production as well as grocery stores, gas stations and other things necessary for continued operations. Inslee asked that people not overstock, saying that if everyone sticks to normal buying habits stores will have enough for everyone.
Earlier Monday, the state’s largest private employer, The Boeing Co., announced it will be shutting down its assembly lines in the Northwest to protect its workers. Inslee praised the company’s decision to have an orderly shutdown and continue to pay workers.
“Now is a time for bold actions like these, and we will continue to look at what can be done statewide,” he said.
Effective immediately, the order bans all gatherings of any size for social, spiritual and recreational purposes, including weddings and funerals.
Inslee banned gatherings of 250 or more people on March 13 and later dropped that to 50 or more people. He also ordered certain businesses, including bars and sit-down service in restaurants, to close March 16, and public and private schools to close starting March 17. At the time he urged people to stay at home except for trips to the store, and urged businesses to allow employees to work from home as much as possible.
As governors of California and other states issued stricter orders for making people stay home, Inslee said health experts in Washington would monitor the state’s data to see if more restrictions were necessary. Monday, with the state Department of Health reporting 110 deaths and more than 2,220 patients testing positive for the virus, he decided the state had reached that tipping point.
Before lifting the order, state officials and health experts will look at the increase in patients testing positive for the virus and whether the health care system is getting to a point where it can’t provide services and care, Wiesman said.
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