“If we are living a normal life right now, we’re just not doing our jobs as Washingtonians," Governor Jay Inslee said at a press conference in Seattle this morning, during which he laid out expanded statewide measures to combat the spread of coronavirus.
To put more force behind the efforts of state and local governments to encourage social distancing, Inslee is shutting down bars, restaurants, theaters, coffee shops, gyms, bowling alleys, and more statewide. Grocery stores and pharmacies can continue to operate, and dining establishments can move to take-out service if they implement appropriate distancing measures.
The governor is also prohibiting gatherings of 50 people or more statewide.
“This is bigger than all of us," Inslee said, "and I am fully confident that all Washingtonians will rise to this challenge." Doing otherwise, he added, "is just much, much too dangerous.”
Inslee's announcement effectively blankets all of Washington in a policy that was announced for the Seattle area last night. At the same time, King County Executive Dow Constantine continued the pattern of taking things a step further in this area by calling on everyone in the county to self-quarantine for the next two weeks.
“Go to work if you must, but hunker down if you are able," Constantine said. "Postpone anything you can. Treat the next two weeks as a period of self-quarantine to protect yourself and the lives of our loved ones and our community.”
Both Constantine and Inslee compared this moment to World War II in terms of the sacrifice and public-spiritedness it will require.
Constantine also urged people to find ways to continue to support local businesses, saying that getting take-out and declining to demand refunds for tickets to now-canceled shows is akin to the WW II era practice of purchasing war bonds.
Inslee, meanwhile, offered blunt warnings to people 60 years of age and older, who are most vulnerable to the virus, as well as to people younger than 60, who can carry it asymptomatically.
“You need to self-isolate, starting right now," Inslee said to those 60 and above. "And that means you need to change the way you operate your life.”
Keeping the entire over-60 population "out of circulation for the next several weeks," Inslee said, could "save dozens if not hundreds of our loved ones.”
As for people under 60, Inslee said, "You oughta look at your life"—and then cease any activity that puts yourself or others at risk of catching COVID-19.
Constantine added that if you live in King County, you should assume everyone you meet is potentially infected. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, for her part, hinted that more Seattle-specific restrictions may be coming soon. (San Francisco just issued a "shelter in place" order.)
To leaders of organizations big and small in Washington state, Inslee said the prohibition on gatherings of 50 people or more should not be taken as a green light to hold gatherings of 49 people or less.
"You need to figure out how not to have meetings of any size if there is any possible opportunity to get your work done in a different way," he said.
Washington state's 7.5 million people represent only about two percent of the US population, Inslee noted, but about 20 percent of the country's known coronavirus cases.
That's one reason for the stricter measures. Another is that public health experts expect the state's coronavirus caseload to double every seven to eight days, quickly overwhelming the region's health system, unless drastic action to limit the spread of the virus is taken now.
Inslee's orders do have the force of law behind them, but he hopes the state can get where it needs to be through voluntary compliance.
“I really believe the vast, vast, vast majority of Washingtonians are going to respond to this order," he said. “If there is a willful, conscious disregard of this, the state does have the ability to take legal action.” But, Inslee added: "We need to rely on our love for each other much more than our fear of the law at this moment.”
Details for plans to soften the spiraling economic fallout from these restrictions continued to be vague, but the elected leaders at the press conference said more news on that front will be coming soon.
"Today we are focused on the response, but in the coming weeks we must also focus on the recovery," Constantine said.