Inslee orders New COVID-19 restrictions Indoor dining, gyms among affected activities, with indoor social gatherings officially banned

(RICK BANNAN/Centralia Chronicle)

Inslee remarks that Nov. 15 was “the most dangerous public health day in over 100 years in our state’s great history.”

A number of businesses will have to restrict operations as part of a new set of orders issued by Gov. Jay Inslee intended to stop the “third wave” of COVID-19 in the state. It’s an executive action similar, but smaller in scope, to the initial “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order put in place at the start of the pandemic. During a rare Sunday morning press conference Nov. 15, Inslee announced several new restrictions ranging from banning indoor restaurant and bar service to more requirements on religious services.

The orders are currently set to run for four weeks. The restrictions generally prohibit indoor operations of a number of business types and activities, or impose capacity restrictions on others, including retail. Under the new restrictions, indoor social gatherings with individuals outside of one’s household were prohibited in most cases, unless an individual quarantined for 14 days prior to the gathering, or seven days before if they received a negative COVID-19 test result fewer than 48 hours before the gathering. Outdoor gatherings are limited to five people.

Another restriction would stop indoor dining at restaurants and bars, with restricted outdoor dining and takeout services still allowed. Table sizes will be restricted to five for outdoor dining. In-store retail businesses including grocery stores are limited to 25 percent occupancy under the new restrictions, with congregate areas such as food courts closed. Religious services are limited to 25 percent indoor capacity or 200 people, whichever is less, with choirs, bands and ensemble acts prohibited from performing, though solo acts are allowed.

Fitness facilities such as gyms are closed for indoor operations per the new restrictions, with outdoor activities restricted to five people, per the general outdoor gathering rules. Bowling alleys, museums, zoos, aquariums and movie theaters are also closed for indoor service. Inslee noted there were no new restrictions on childcare or K-12 education, keeping buildings open for districts that have started to phase in some students. The majority of the restrictions take effect at 11:59 p.m. Nov. 16, while the restaurant restrictions go into effect at 12:01 a.m. Nov. 18.

The restrictions are set to run until Dec. 14. Although the restrictions will be in effect statewide, Inslee said they were not as comprehensive as ones put forth in the initial “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order made in March. He said which restrictions were made were based on the science behind how COVID-19 spread, targeting activities where prolonged, maskless contact was most likely, such as restaurants and gyms.

The restrictions come as cases and hospitalizations have had increases, causing much concern from healthcare experts in the past few weeks. Inslee remarked that the day of the press conference was “the most dangerous public health day in over 100 years in our state’s great history.” Washington State Health Officer Kathy Lofy said that the number of daily cases of COVID-19 had doubled in the past two weeks.

There were about 2,300 cases Nov. 14, a record for the state that Inslee said health experts anticipated would be shortly broken. Lofy added that the number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals increased by 40 percent in the past week.

“This increase is simply not sustainable,” Lofy said, adding hospitals would exceed capacity if the trajectory of the spread kept as it was. Clint Wallace, an intensive care unit nurse at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, said he’s worked in ICUs for nearly 20 years, and the COVID-19 pandemic has been the busiest he has ever seen for work in those units. “We’re close as a whole (as) healthcare workers to being burnt out,” Wallace said, “and we are pleading with the community of Washington and throughout the world to follow the directions and advice of our healthcare experts.”

Inslee said the state is in a more dangerous position than it was in March when the outbreak began, given the onset of winter keeping people in their homes. Regarding the increase of cases, which has been described as a third wave of the disease since the pandemic began, Inslee said that “left unchecked, it will assuredly result in grossly overburdened hospitals,” adding that deaths would increase and economic impacts would be prolonged. An influx of COVID-19 patients could keep non-infected individuals from receiving care, he added.

Regarding potential enforcement of prohibited social gatherings, Inslee said Washingtonians shouldn’t “expect state troopers coming to your door if you have a big Thanksgiving dinner,” but making the restriction a legal requirement would persuade individuals who want to abide by the law to not take part in those activities.

“We’re hopeful that (the prohibition on gatherings) will raise the consciousness of this issue,” Inslee said, “and we know scientifically it really works.” Acknowledging layoffs and permanently-shuttered businesses that were impacted by prior restrictions, Inslee announced $50 million would be allocated to mitigate impacts on businesses and workers through a combination of grants and loans.

“We also cannot enjoy a full economic recovery, which we all desperately want, without knocking down this virus,” Inslee said. He added that the federal government also needed to step in with extending unemployment compensation and business assistance. “The choices we have (made) today are not easy ones,” Inslee said, “but I do believe that they are the right choices, given the threat that we face.”

“We have done this once or twice before, so we know that if we continue to exercise diligence that we can continue to knock this (disease) down,” Inslee said. Inslee stressed to Washingtonians that the restrictions are a temporary measure to stop increased transmission until COVID-19 treatments and a vaccine would be available. “We need to hold this pandemic down until the cavalry arrives,” Inslee said.