Gov. Jay Inslee Extends Stay-Home Order to May 31, Unveils Phased Reopening Plan

by Carolyn Bick

Washington State’s stay-home order will now remain in place until May 31, in order to continue to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, as the state works in four phases to return to relative normalcy.

The state has been under a stay-home order since late March. Though the order was supposed to be lifted on May 4, Gov. Jay Inslee said in a press conference on May 1 that though there has been some “good news,” regarding the slowed spread of the virus, the data simply doesn’t support fully opening up the state yet. As of April 30, there have been 14,327 confirmed cases and 814 deaths.

Though most of the state will open in phases, 10 Washington State counties will be able to apply for a variance to move forward with opening their economies ahead of the rest of the state. Inslee said this is based on the low rate of infections and deaths within those communities, which, combined, make up just 3 percent of the state’s information.

Inslee said the state will reopen in four phases. He did not set dates on any of these phases, because moving from one phase to another depends on several factors, including the rates of infection and death, the state’s ability to test and trace potentially infected people, and the ongoing impact on the state’s most vulnerable populations. However, he did say that the absolute minimum time period between phases would be three weeks.

Currently, Inslee said, Washington is in Phase One, with some restrictions on construction and outdoor recreation eased. Phase One will also involve retail business curbside pickup, auto sales, and car washes, as well as drive-up spiritual services with one family per car. Phase Two will reintroduce camping with five people or fewer, the allowance of new construction, in-store retail purchases, and a reopening of barber shops and salons.

Phase Three will involve a resumption of sports activities, nonessential travel, and opening restaurants at 75 percent capacity, bars at 25 percent capacity, and gyms and movie theatres at 50 percent capacity. The last phase will involve a reopening of nightclubs, and lifting the ban on gatherings of more than 50 people.

Until there is a vaccine, Inslee said, all of the phases will involve appropriate social distancing measures and personal protective equipment (PPE). In the meantime, Inslee said, the state will be working with these different industries to create effective safety plans, ahead of reopening.

The 10 smaller Washington State counties that will be allowed to reopen are Columbia, Garfield, Jefferson, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Skamania, Wahkiakum, Kittitas, Ferry, and Gray’s Harbor. In order to apply for a variance, these counties’ local health departments will be in charge of forwarding recommendations to county commissioners, who will then submit plans to the state’s Department of Health. If these counties’ hospitals have an ample supply of PPE and enough surge capacity, they should be allowed to open.

“If these counties, in partnership with their local health jurisdictions, can find ways to open up certain sectors and prove effective, then they can move earlier to the next phase, Phase Two” Inslee said. “What we learn from those counties can help larger counties learn, as well.” 

Inslee did not answer multiple questions from different reporters regarding what would happen, if these counties reopen without the go-ahead from the state, as is happening in California. He accused the press of “wishing for failure here.”

“That’s just not how we operate here in Washington. We look for success. And that’s what we’re experiencing. We’ve had the greatest unification of Washingtonians that I’ve ever seen. I’m 69 years of age, and I’ve never seen this state so united — Republicans and Democrats,” Inslee said.

Earlier in the day on May 1, the same day as the press conference, a group of about 50 unmasked people gathered in Tacoma, Washington, to protest the stay-home order. On April 19, more than 2,500 people gathered at the state capitol in Olympia, Washington, to protest the order. That same weekend, people gathered on their boats in Richland, Washington, to protest the state’s ban on fishing, which was then in place.

Some counties in the state are going against Inslee’s orders, too. In April, Franklin County’s sheriff said he would not be enforcing Inslee’s stay-home order, and the Franklin County Commission in Pasco, Washington, voted to reopen the county for business, stating that the governor’s order was unconstitutional. The Snohomish County sheriff also said he will not enforce the stay-home order. Chelan and Douglas counties passed formal resolutions allowing the resumption of construction.

Carolyn Bick is a journalist and photographer based in South Seattle. You can reach them here.