Governor imposes restrictions once more
— Created November 18, 2020 by Kathy Reed
By Kathy Reed
The rapidly growing number of COVID-19 cases across the state has prompted Washington Gov. Jay Inslee to reimpose tough restrictions.
In a rare Sunday press conference, Inslee laid out a four-week plan to try to stem an increasing infection rate and keep hospitals across the state from becoming overwhelmed.
“Left unchecked, it will assuredly result in grossly overburdened hospitals,” Inslee said. “It will prevent people from seeking necessary medical treatment because of the stresses our hospitals will be under. Left unchecked, the economic devastation long term will be continually prolonged. Most importantly, left unchecked, we will see continued untold numbers of deaths. We will not allow these things to happen.”
Inslee said we are seeing a third wave of infections he said is trending to be even worse than previous spikes.
“We are today in a more dangerous position than we were in March, when our first stay at home order was issued,” he said, citing the current extent of the infection rate across the country and the time of year as reasons for the new restrictions.
“We acted early. We also had the benefit of heading into summer,” Inslee said. “But now we’re heading inside and we’re heading into the virus’ home arena. This is where the virus gets us – inside, where we’re heading during the winter.”
The new restrictions, most of which went into effect Tuesday and will remain in effect through Dec. 14, include a ban on indoor social gatherings with people from outside one’s household, unless they quarantine for 14 days prior to the gathering or have quarantined for seven days prior and receive a negative COVID-19 test within 48 hours of the gathering. Outdoor gatherings are limited to five people outside one’s household. The order also prohibits gyms, fitness facilities, bowling centers, movie theaters, museums, zoos and aquariums from operating indoor activities.
Perhaps hardest hit are restaurants and bars, which had to close all indoor dining effective at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday. Outdoor dining and to-go service is permitted. Table size for outdoor dining is limited to five people and all guidance must be followed.
Also included is a 25 percent capacity limit at retail stores, including grocery stores. Religious services are limited to 25 percent capacity or no more than 200 people, whichever is smaller. Choir, band or ensemble performances are not allowed. Real estate open houses are prohibited. Indoor visits at long term care facilities are prohibited. Personal services such as hair and nail salons are limited to 25 percent capacity as well. (View the full list of restrictions at governor.wa.gov.)
Inslee said he knows the impact to business will be painful.
“The COVID pandemic is not just a public health crisis, it is an economic crisis as well,” he said. “We cannot take lightly the impact on businesses in this regard. But this is clear – we also cannot enjoy a full economic recovery, which we all desperately want, without knocking down this virus.”
The governor did announce there will be $50 million available to help mitigate the impact to businesses and workers through grants and loans. Details on the plan will be forthcoming.
Just as across the rest of the state, case numbers in Island County are steadily rising, due in part to residents’ behavior, according to local health officials.
“Since last Monday we added 48 new cases which represent about 10 percent of all cases in the county,” said Keith Higman, Island County Public Health director. “I believe that mitigation measures in our county are no longer effective at keeping COVID from spreading and that many of us are participating in social activities that have proven to be risky.”
Island County Commissioner Janet St. Clair said although hospital capacity at WhidbeyHealth is good, she is concerned about dwindling capacity in other counties that could affect Camano Island residents.
“I am deeply concerned by the extraordinary rise in cases in Island County, the decreasing hospital capacity in Skagit and Snohomish Counties and the spike in cluster outbreaks in our region,” she said. “This has become increasingly personal as friends have lost loved ones to this pernicious pandemic and I know of more people impacted. Simultaneously, I grieve for our small business community and especially our restaurants as they take another blow to their economic stability. We must support small business and our restaurants during these times.”
“I wish the infection rates were lower,” said Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson. “Island county is doing better than surrounding counties, but our rates are rapidly rising too. We must stay strong. If we support each other, keep our distance, wear masks and wash hands, we can best take care of each other.”
According to Higman, Island County is working to continue its ability to meet public health demands.
“We continue to add staffing resources to help with our efforts and are currently looking for more contract tracing help and public health nurses,” he said.
In addition, both Price Johnson and St. Clair pointed to the start of the Island County Economic Recovery Taskforce’s buy local campaign as a way to help local businesses stay viable through this latest round of restrictions.
“Shop and eat local,” St. Clair said, pointing to the upcoming holiday as an opportunity to help. “Some restaurants are offering Thanksgiving take out prepped for you, so all you need to do is set the table and watch the game. If you are like me and want to cook, order take out the day before or the weekend after. [There are] so many good options in our communities. Leftover turkey only goes so far.”
While the COVID-19 situation appears dire at the moment, Gov. Insless said there is hope on the horizon in the form of two promising vaccine candidates.
“There is light at the end of this tunnel,” he said. “We will continue to fight, adapt and persevere. It may be months before we’re totally out of the clear, but medical advances are putting us closer to the goal of restoring all activities eventually. For now, we have to keep everyone’s interests in mind and take steps that protect all Washingtonians.”