Gov. Inslee orders Washingtonians to stay at home to slow spread of coronavirus

By Jim Brunner and Daniel Beekman

SEATTLE — To combat the novel coronavirus, Gov. Jay Inslee is ordering Washington residents to stay at home, except for crucial activities like buying groceries, seeking medical care or going to work at essential businesses, and except for outdoor activities that can be done 6 feet away from others.

The new order also requires the closure of nonessential businesses and, the governor said, “is enforceable by law,” though crackdowns by officers aren’t expected.

“This is a human tragedy on a scale we cannot yet project,” Inslee said about the pandemic in a live televised address Monday evening. “It’s time to hunker down in order to win this fight.”

The stay-at-home order goes into effect immediately and will last for a minimum of two weeks, the governor said. It bans all gatherings of people for social, spiritual and recreational purposes, whether by public or private groups. That includes weddings and funerals. Any nonessential businesses still operating must close in 48 hours.

“This does not mean you cannot go outdoors, if you feel like going for a walk, gardening or going for a bike ride,” Inslee said in remarks that lasted about 13 minutes. “We just all need to practice social distancing of at least 6 feet.”

Inslee said he had hoped a mandate would not be necessary. “But I have heard from health professionals, local officials and others that people still aren’t practicing these precautions,” he said. “If you want to have parties on the beach or play pickup basketball at the park or have sleepovers, these are no longer allowed for at least a couple weeks.”

The governor is not yet asking law enforcement agencies to actively enforce his stay-at-home order, King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht said in a statement, “and we see no need to do so.”Johanknecht’s deputies will take “an educational approach” if they see banned gatherings, she said.

Washington’s definition of “essential business” is modeled on lists developed by the federal government and by California. Restaurants will be allowed to offer take-out and delivery, and supermarkets, pharmacies, food banks, convenience stores, banks and laundromats will be allowed to remain open, among other establishments.

Still, a range of businesses will be shuttered, and some construction sites likely will need to shut down.

Inslee said the decision was difficult and acknowledged the move would “add to the economic and family hardship that many in our state are already feeling.” But he argued the order was the best choice.

“The fastest way to get back to normal is to hit this hard,” he said, describing social distancing as “the only weapon against this virus.”

The governor’s action came the same day that Boeing announced it would suspend its Puget Sound manufacturing and maintenance operations for two weeks, beginning Wednesday, after a worker at the company’s Everett plant died of a COVID-19 infection.

Inslee’s order followed a wave of similar decrees by states including California, New York, Oregon, which have in the last few days shuttered nonessential business and ordered residents to stay home.

The global pandemic has been especially severe in Washington, which had the first reported outbreak in the U.S., and had 2,221 known cases and at least 110 deaths as of Monday.

In response, Inslee had issued an escalating array of orders banning large public gatherings, had prohibited sit-in dining at restaurants and had urged residents to voluntarily self-isolate as much as possible. One March 12 he ordered public schools in three counties to close. Then, a day later he ordered all K-12 schools statewide to close through April 24.

Yet as of last week, he had said it was not yet time to order Washingtonians to remain at home, and that the state still had unused tools before such a step would need to be invoked.

The governor had faced increasing pressure to impose more forceful measures amid reports that some people have been ignoring public-health warnings and continuing to gather in close proximity at some parks and beaches.

Earlier Monday, Rick Hicks, secretary treasurer of Teamsters Local 174, blistered Inslee in an open letter, saying the delay in a strict stay-at-home order risked the health of union workers who deliver groceries, UPS packages and work in sanitation and law enforcement.

Last week, University of Washington Judith Malmgren, an affiliate assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington, said she favored immediately implementing a shelter-in-place order for King County.

Inslee cited traffic data last Friday as evidence that residents in some parts of Washington weren’t taking his pleas to stay home seriously enough, lamenting relatively modest reductions on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and along State Route 167.

Traffic dropped on those toll corridors and on most others across the state over the weekend. But the reductions apparently didn’t adequately reassure the governor.

State law gives Inslee broad authority to issue a stay-at-home order, University of Washington law professor Hugh Spitzer said.