OLYMPIA, WA — New restrictions on businesses and social activities will take effect in Washington at 11:59 p.m. Monday, limiting capacity at retail and grocery stores, banning indoor service at bars and restaurants and prohibiting most gatherings with people outside the household, a wave of measures announced by Gov. Jay Inslee Sunday to combat rising coronavirus cases.
The latest rules will remain in place until at least Dec. 14.
Inslee held a news conference Sunday morning to discuss the changes, joined by Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards and King County Executive Dow Constantine.
"I'm announcing a series of measures that will give us reasonable hope that the success we enjoyed last spring can be replicated in reducing the horrific rate of transmission," Inslee said. "We know these measures can work."
The governor's executive order comes amid an exponentially increasing third wave of coronavirus infections in Washington, where daily case counts have more than doubled in the last two weeks.
"Today, Nov. 15, 2020, I have to report to Washingtonians is the most dangerous public health day in over 100 years in our state's great history," Inslee said. "Now we're facing a third wave that is trending to be more dangerous than any we have seen before. Inaction here is not an option. We have to take bold, decisive action, and we are doing that today."
Washington has reported more than 1,000 new coronavirus cases daily since Nov. 4 and more than 2,000 for three days in a row. Last week, the state's top health officials issued an urgent call to change course and prevent an untenable situation that could overburden the health care system. Inslee reiterated the plea in a televised address Thursday, asking Washingtonians to cancel holiday plans with those outside the household and place firm limits on social activities.
In neighboring Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown announced a "two-week freeze" Friday, capping capacity at grocery and retail stores at 75 percent, limiting restaurants and bars to takeout and shrinking the size of private gatherings. Washington's restrictions will go further and last longer.
Here's what to expect:
Indoor social gatherings with people from outside your household are prohibited unless a 14-day quarantine is completed before the event (or a week-long quarantine with a negative test result received within 48 hours).
Outdoor social gatherings should be limited to 5 people from outside your household.
Restaurants and bars are closed for indoor service. Outdoor dining and to-go service are permitted. Outdoor dining must follow the outdoor dining restriction. Table size is limited to 5 for outdoor dining. These restaurant restrictions go into effect at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 18.
Fitness facilities and gyms are closed for indoor operations. Outdoor fitness classes may still occur but they are limited by the outdoor gathering restriction listed above. Drop off childcare closed.
Bowling Centers are closed for indoor service.
Miscellaneous Venues: All retail activities and business meetings are prohibited. Only professional training and testing that cannot be performed remotely is allowed. Occupancy in each meeting room is limited to 25% or 100 people, whichever is fewer.
Movie Theaters are closed for indoor service. Drive-in movie theaters are still permitted and must follow the current drive-in movie theater guidance.
Museums/Zoos/Aquariums closed for indoor service.
Real Estate open houses are prohibited.
Wedding and Funerals receptions are prohibited. Ceremonies are limited to no more than 30 people.
In-store retail (including grocery stores) are limited to 25% indoor occupancy and must close any common/congregate non-food-related seating areas. Food court indoor seating is closed.
Religious services are limited to 25% indoor occupancy no more than 200 people, whichever is fewer. No choir, band, or ensemble shall perform during the service. Soloists are permitted to perform. Facial coverings must be worn at all times by congregation members and no congregational singing.
Professional Services are required to mandate that employees work from home when possible, and to close offices to the public. If they remain open, occupancy is restricted to 25%.
Personal services are limited to 25% of maximum occupancy.
Long-term Care Facilities limited to outdoor visits only. Exceptions can be made for essential support person and end-of-life care.
Youth (school and non-school) and adult sporting activities are limited to outdoor-only for intrateam practices, masks required for athletes.
Inslee said his latest restrictions are not as severe as the stay-at-home order issued in March and tailored to curb exposure risks in indoor settings, where the virus is known to spread easiest.
"We know where this virus can get you, and that's in your own home, or your friend's home, at a dinner party, at a get-together, at a birthday party, at a Seahawks celebration," Inslee said. "It is most likely to be transmitted indoors, where people are not wearing masks, where they come into relatively close contact and where they spend a good amount of time, such as a restaurant or gym or, potentially, a store."
Dr. Kathy Lofy, the state health officer, said the alarming acceleration in COVID-19 puts Washington's health care system in a precarious position and at-risk to become overwhelmed with patients and severely impacting the ability to provide care for all illnesses.
"During the past two weeks, the number of cases reported each day in our state has more than doubled, from about 1,000 cases reported per day to about 2,200 cases reported per day," Lofy said. "If that doubling time continues, in two more weeks, we'll be seeing over 4,000 cases per day. Especially concerning is that during the past week, the number of patients currently in our hospitals with COVID-19 increased about 40 percent, from 401 on Nov. 6 to 566 on Nov. 13."
Acting before hospitals become overburdened is essential, Lofy said, since the effectiveness of such measures will take weeks to become apparent.
"Flattening the curve is essential to saving lives and ensuring our hospitals don't become overwhelmed with COVID cases like we're seeing in many hospitals in the Midwest and elsewhere in the county," Lofy said. "If we act now, we can be successful."
Sunday's news conference included brief remarks from Clint Wallace, a nurse at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, who described the situation now as worse than anything he had seen in almost 20 years in intensive care.
"We've been in this pandemic for eight months now, and we are exhausted," Wallace said. "We are pleading with the community of Washington and throughout the world to follow the directions and advice of our health care experts."
The governor also acknowledged the economic impact of new restrictions and reiterated that the path to sustainable economic recovery is rooted in tamping down the virus for good.
"This COVID pandemic is not just a public health crisis, it is an economic crisis as well," Inslee said. "We cannot take lightly the impact on businesses in this regard. We also cannot enjoy a full economic recovery, which we all desperately want, without knocking down this virus."
To help mitigate some of the impacts, the state plans to use $50 million to offer new grants and loans to business owners and employees before the end of the year.
"We're going to work with our partners to get this aid out as quickly as we can to folks who have been bitten by this," Inslee said. "We know this is not enough, this is not going to end all the economic suffering by a longshot, but it's what we've been able to do so far."
The governor also called on the federal government to "step up," and reinstate aid for businesses and boosts to unemployment. If that help fails to materialize, Inslee said his office would explore every alternative at the state level until the virus is under control.
"This is not forever; this is only for now," Inslee said. "Thanks to the brilliance of our medical community, a vaccine is on the way. We need to hold this pandemic down until the cavalry arrives. This is a temporary situation in our state when we seek a permanent, healthy condition. Our goal is to keep the most people alive as possible until the vaccine and other therapeutic measures arrive."
A spokesperson for the governor's office said most restrictions will take effect at 11:59 p.m. Monday, except for restaurants, which will have until 12:01 a.m. Wednesday. Any activities not specifically listed will be subject to existing guidance, including all K-12 learning, higher education and childcare. The restrictions also do not apply to court proceedings.