Washington state is setting further restrictions as COVID-19 case counts reach new highs and hospitalizations rise again.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced Sunday that indoor social gatherings and indoor dining will be banned across the state, effective Monday, Nov. 16 until Dec. 14.
Residents are prohibited from being inside with people outside of their household, unless they quarantine for 14 days prior to gathering, or seven days if they also receive a negative COVID-19 test within 48 hours of gathering. Outdoor gatherings should be limited to five people beyond a household.
The state’s average daily cases have doubled over the past two weeks and eclipsed more than 2,000 cases on a single day for the first time last week. Hospitalizations have also been on the rise.
Inslee said the state is facing a “third wave that is trending to be more dangerous than any we have seen before.”
“The decisions we have made have been based on science — the science of this virus, the science of what conditions lead to its transmission, and the recognition of what works, because we’ve done these things before, frankly,” Inslee said during an online press conference.
Today is the most dangerous public health day in the last 100 years of our state’s history. A pandemic is raging in Washington.
Today, we are taking action to stop it. https://t.co/p7IWK3GFUG
— Governor Jay Inslee (@GovInslee) November 15, 2020
The new restrictions are similar to Inslee’s nine-week Stay Home, Stay Healthy order set in April when COVID-19 began spreading across the state and country.
The governor said the state was “largely successful” with its mitigation policies earlier this year compared to other states because it acted quickly.
“The one thing about this virus that every epidemiologist and virologist has told us is early action can save the day,” Inslee said.
Takeout orders and restricted outdoor dining will be allowed at restaurants, which were previously allowed to operate indoor dining at 50% capacity and with parties of five or less, in addition to social distancing and cleaning mandates.
Retail businesses such as grocery stores will now be limited to 25% capacity indoors, while gyms, indoor movie theaters, and museums must close. Real estate open houses are prohibited. Religious services are limited to 25% occupancy with no more than 200 people.
K-12/higher education, childcare, and court-related proceedings are exempt from the new restrictions.
The state has a guide for safer gatherings here.
“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.”
Dr. Kathy Lofy, Washington’s state health officer, said officials are “extremely concerned about how quickly COVID-19 is spreading through our state,” noting the exponential growth. She said the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 has increased 40% over the past week.
“We will eventually exceed the capacity in our hospitals to adequately care for all patients, including patients with and without COVID, and ultimately will lead to more deaths,” Lofy said on Sunday.
In King County, home to the tech centers of Bellevue, Redmond, and Seattle, the seven-day rolling average of positive cases now tops 400 a day, after dropping to a rolling average of less than 50 cases a day at times in the late spring.
At the same time, the fatality rate from the disease remains well below its peak in the state earlier this year. The outbreak in the state has been less severe than in most other states by almost every measure. The U.S. surpassed 11 million cases this weekend, including 159,100 on Saturday, the third-highest count to date.
In total, more than 127,000 cases have been confirmed, 9,281 people hospitalized and 2,519 have died from COVID in Washington state.
“We’re close as a whole, as healthcare workers, to being burnt out,” said Clint Wallace, an ICU nurse at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, Wash who spoke at the briefing. “We are pleading with the community in Washington and throughout the world to follow the directions and advice of our healthcare experts.”
Inslee said the state is allocating another $50 million in grants and loans to help businesses impacted by the pandemic. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said she is looking for additional ways to help small businesses with COVID relief packages.
Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards is signing an emergency rule to cap delivery fees for third-party apps such as UberEats and DoorDash.
In a statement in response to @GovInslee's latest #COVID19 restrictions, Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards says she's signed an emergency rule that would cap delivery fees that third-party apps charge to Tacoma restaurants, to offer some relief for businesses. pic.twitter.com/VZ1A0S51Rf
— Kari Plog (@KariPlog) November 15, 2020
Inslee, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday issued a travel advisory and recommended a 14-day quarantine for interstate and international travel. Insee also on Friday made a new appeal to residents to avoid holiday gatherings outside of their households.
Last week, Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center returned to stricter restrictions on its own campus, in a possible sign of things to come for companies based across broader region.
Seattle-area tech giants Amazon and Microsoft were some of the first large companies to allow remote work as the pandemic hit earlier this year. Amazon last month extended its remote work policy to June 2021. Microsoft released new “hybrid workplace” guidance that will allow employees to work from home freely for less than 50% of their working week, and managers will be able to approve permanent remote work.
We’ve reached out to both companies to learn more about revised remote work policies and will update this story when we hear back.