Inslee: Don’t let ‘irrational forces’ dictate action on COVID-19 response


Washington Governor Jay Inslee

Governor addresses recent opposition to ‘Stay Home, Stay Healthy’ order…

Gov. Jay Inslee’s latest press conference regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and Washington state’s response turned attention to recent opposition to the governor’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order, though he maintained that the vast majority of state citizens were complying with restrictions designed to reduce the spread of the disease.

Speaking Wednesday, April 22, the governor acknowledged there is some disagreement on his actions in responding to COVID-19, though he said every decision he has made “is designed to protect the health of Washingtonians,” noting the more than 680 deaths that have happened in patients with the disease in the state as of latest Washington State Department of Health numbers.

“Our office will not be guided by irrational forces that really gamble with our health,” Inslee said. “If we placed that bet and lost, we would be giving up the hard-won gains that we have already made because of the dedication of Washingtonians to this order.”

Inslee acknowledged the “huge buy-in” from most Washington state residents following the order, saying he had trouble thinking of another time Washingtonians had shown such dedication to the health welfare of the state at large.

Inslee said he is only aware of one instance where action at the level of Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office had been taken on noncompliance — a property management business in Tacoma that was not following a moratorium on evictions the governor ordered last month.

“Law enforcement really has not been necessary to do what we have to do, which is to use our heads to protect ourselves from this virus,” Inslee rsaid, though he said enforcement would be used if necessary, referring to a three-tier process for any sort of legal intervention beginning with education of the order, then moving into potential licensing or local law enforcement action.

“Only as a very last resort do we have to seek legal action to obtain compliance,” Inslee said about the third step.

Inslee said he had sent a letter to the Franklin County commissioners, who approved a resolution this week in defiance of the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order, citing constitutional and state law. He said the letter “made clear that those actions really intentionally and knowingly violated the state law, and so they’ll have to change.”

Inslee added that individual law enforcement department leaders cannot “arbitrarily decide which laws they are going to enforce, and which laws they are not going to enforce.”

“If people have disagreements with the law, that can be decided by the courts, not by any individual law enforcement officer,” Inslee said. He mentioned Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney specifically after the sheriff had said he would not enforce the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order, calling it a “suspension of constitutional rights.”

As a counterpoint, Inslee read a statement from Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Adam Cornell, who wrote that “we are elected to serve under the laws, not to act above them.”

“An earnest desire to change the law is much different than refusing to enforce it,” Inslee read from Cornell, adding he agreed with the statement.

“No court in this state or federally has said in any way that this order contravenes the constitution or any other law that’s pertinent to our state,” Inslee said.

He spoke out against those encouraging the breaking of the order, saying such actions could put them “in legal jeopardy.”

Inslee said that some jurisdictions that move to ease some of the statewide restrictions had rescinded their own orders after communication with his office, mentioning the city of Lynden as well as Douglas and Chelan counties as having been cooperative after attempts to allow for construction during the order.

“There are people alive today because of the work we have done jointly in the state of Washington,” Inslee said, adding he has confidence the majority of Washingtonians will continue to uphold COVID-19 response restrictions.

When asked, Inslee said he does not foresee the need to focus more law enforcement on upholding COVID-19 restrictions, pointing to the “enormous percentages of Washingtonians” who are complying with the order.

Inslee acknowledged that determining which industries were considered “essential” and therefore could continue was challenging, as the restrictions on construction have been a major sticking point for those going against the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order.

“We have tried to make the best decisions and the fairest decisions we possibly can to make sure that people had food and clothing and pharmaceuticals, and that the entire economy of Washington state would not collapse,” Inslee said.