Gov. Inslee Institutes New Restrictions to Curb COVID Spread, Announces $50 Million Fund for Struggling Businesses

by Carolyn Bick

Gov. Jay Inslee has declared a series of new restrictions for the state of Washington, in light of rapidly escalating numbers of new COVID-19 cases. These restrictions will last for a minimum of four weeks. He also announced the state has found an extra $50 million to support struggling state businesses.

In a virtual press conference on the morning of Nov. 15, Inslee said that these new restrictions will begin to take effect at 11:59 p.m. on Nov. 16, and last until 12:01 a.m. on Dec. 14, after which point the state will reassess the situation. When the Emerald followed up after the press conference with Inslee’s office to ask whether there will be any penalties imposed on individuals who do not follow these new restrictions, the office said that the question of enforcement is a job for local law enforcement.

State Department of Health (DOH) Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy, who remotely joined Inslee at the press conference, said that cases have hit an exponential growth rate. Where infections were 1,000 new cases per day a few weeks ago, they are now at 2,000 new cases per day. If left unchecked, they will reach 4,000 cases per day, she said. Earlier this past week, as the Emerald reported, Lofy said that “we should probably all stop socializing for the next several weeks.”

Clint Stein, a nurse in a Sacred Heart ICU who was also at the press conference via remote conference call, pleaded for people to follow health officials’ guidance and these new restrictions.

“We have been in this pandemic for eight months now, and we are exhausted,” he said. “Our capacity for staff is exceeding 100 percent. … We have used our physical abilities, our vacation time, for the last eight months. We need the community to pull together … and follow the directions of health experts. We need everybody’s help.”

The new restrictions will attempt to curb this growth. Indoor social gatherings will be prohibited, except if everyone involved undergoes a 14-day quarantine, or a seven-day quarantine with a negative COVID test taken at most 48 hours before the social gathering is scheduled to occur. Outdoor social gatherings are limited to five people.

Restaurants and bars will be closed to indoor service, but outdoor dining and to-go services may continue as usual, though outdoor dining tables are limited to five or fewer people. Religious services are limited to 25 percent capacity, or no more than 200 people, whichever is fewer. Masks are mandatory, and any singing is prohibited, due to the way the virus spreads.

Fitness facilities are closed for indoor operations, but outdoor fitness classes limited to five or fewer people are permitted. No movie theatres, zoos, bowling alleys, or other forms of indoor entertainment will be allowed to hold indoor operations.

Inslee said that the eviction moratorium remains in place, but, as Erica C. Barnett, of PubliCola, pointed out, landlords are still finding ways to evict people.

When the Emerald followed up with Inslee’s office to ask why it took so long for the state to impose these new restrictions, since there was plenty of data for several weeks prior to this to show that the virus was not showing any signs of slowing down and people were not changing their behavior, Deputy Press Secretary and Communications Director Mike Faulk said that “[t]his is a subjective question. The governor’s office and the Department of Health have been working hard to study the science, gather the data, and decide what route would knock the pandemic down while having less economic pain based on what we’ve learned since the stay home order in March.”

According to the latest data available on the state Department of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard — which, it should be noted, does not necessarily show complete data, as indicated by the greyed out areas of the chart — the state stands at a rolling seven-day average of more than 1,000 new infections per day. The data trend line shows a sharp projected increase in this average.

Though statewide hospitalizations are still below where they were at the outset of the pandemic, the trend rate shows that this may not be the case for long. The seven-day rolling average for hospitalizations statewide stood at 78 per day in the spring, at the beginning of the outbreak in Washington State. The most recent data on the DOH’s dashboard shows statewide hospitalizations currently stand at a rolling seven-day average of 54 per day.

Deaths statewide are currently far below where they were — the DOH’s dashboard shows a rate of one death per day — but that may be due to the measures put in place since the initial outbreak that mean fewer people who are 80 years or older are exposed to the virus. The initial outbreak appears to have been linked to Kirkland’s Lifecare nursing home and EvergreenHealth Medical Center, both of which care for seriously ill and older people who cannot care for themselves and who are at high risk of dying from the virus, due to their age and underlying conditions. However, this does not mean that the young and healthy are safe. Moreover, people of all ages and health levels have suffered severe, long term complications from the disease, showing that just because one escapes death does not mean one will return to normalpotentially ever.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and King County Executive Dow Constantine also joined Inslee at the press conference. Durkan said that the City will continue to support businesses, and Constantine said that King County will be adding 25 new contact tracers, in addition to its existing 70, and that there are four new testing sites in South King County, which has seen the largest increase in new cases for a majority of the outbreak. He also said King County will be launching a pilot program for the lowest income residents who must isolate or quarantine, because of the virus.

However, Constantine said, “we, locally, are out of COVID funds,” and said that the county needs federal dollars for wage replacement, paycheck protection, rental assistance, food security, and public health funding. He did not qualify this with any sort of extra information, and the Emerald did not get to ask any questions, during the press conference. The Emerald has followed up with Constantine’s office to ask about this.

In King County alone, the current rolling seven-day average is 471 new cases per day, according to the latest data available on Public Health – Seattle & King County’s (PHSKC) COVID-19 dashboard. The rolling seven-day average of hospitalizations county-wide stand at 11 per day, and deaths stand at one per day, on par with the state.

Inslee also announced that the state will be distributing a total of $50 million to state businesses affected by the pandemic. He said these will be available in the form of grants and loans, but did not give any further details, saying that those will be coming soon.

The Emerald has been trying for several weeks to find out how the state will specifically be working with community-led organizations in South King County, but has yet to receive any answers, despite repeated email follow-ups.

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

Featured image is a screenshot of the most recent statewide case data shared during the press conference on Nov. 15. It shows the statewide number of daily cases for the first two weeks of November.