By Rachel La Corte | The Associated Press
OLYMPIA — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Sunday announced new restrictions on businesses and social gatherings for the next four weeks as the state continues to combat a rising number of coronavirus cases.
Starting at 11:59 p.m. Monday, a host of businesses must close their indoor services, including fitness facilities and gyms, bowling centers, movie theaters, museums, zoos and aquariums. Retail stores — including grocery stores — must limit their indoor capacity to 25 percent.
Also starting at that time, indoor social gatherings with people from more than one household are also prohibited unless attendees have either quarantined for 14 days before the gathering or tested negative for COVID-19 and quarantined for seven days. There’s no enforcement mechanism for indoor get-togethers, but Inslee said he hopes people will follow the order.
Beginning 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, restaurants and bars will be limited to to-go service and outdoor dining with tables seating no more than five people.
At a Sunday morning news conference, Inslee warned that the state is facing a third wave of the virus that is “trending to be more dangerous than any we have seen before.”
“Inaction here is not an option,” he said.
While weddings and funerals can still occur, starting Tuesday, ceremonies are limited to no more than 30 people and receptions are prohibited. Real estate open houses will be prohibited, personal services — like hair salons — will be limited to 25 percent of maximum occupancy and professional services are required to mandate remote work when possible, and when not, to be restricted to 25 percent occupancy. Under the new rules, only outdoor visits will be allowed at long-term care facilities and religious services will be capped at either 25 percent indoor occupancy or 200 people, whichever is fewer.
The state was under a stay-at-home order from March 23 until the end of May. All of Washington’s 39 counties have been paused in either the second or third phase of a four-stage reopening plan that began in early May to lift restrictions on businesses and other activities. The governor’s announcement Sunday temporarily rolls back all counties and places them under the same guidelines.
On Twitter, House Republican leader J.T. Wilcox said the Legislature should be involved in help for small businesses, and Senate Republican leader Mark Schoesler issued a written statement calling for a special session. Republicans for months have been calling on Inslee and the Democratic-led Legislature to return for a special session. The next regularly scheduled legislative session begins in January.
“We need more voices at the table on these decisions and support legislative action,” Schoesler wrote.
Inslee said he didn’t believe a special session is necessary at this point, but said that all options are being explored.
In recent days, Inslee and health officials had warned that new restrictions were likely in order to slow the trajectory of new cases and to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed.
For the third day in a row Sunday, state health officials reported a record number of daily cases, with 2,309 new cases as of 11:59 p.m. Saturday. That brought the state’s totals to 130,040 known cases and 2,519 deaths.
On Thursday night, Inslee and his wife, Trudi, made a statewide televised plea to the public to forego gatherings and holiday travel plans. And on Friday, Inslee joined the governors of California and Oregon in issuing travel advisories urging people entering or returning to their states to self-quarantine to slow the spread of the virus.
The advisories said people should avoid non-essential out-of-state travel and quarantine for 14 days after arriving from another state or country.
The U.S. has recorded more than 10.8 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and over 245,000 deaths.
For most, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks, although long-term effects are unknown. But for some, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
In 29 states, the number of applications for unemployment insurance fell last week, but new numbers released Thursday show they jumped the highest in Washington, with 25,201 new claims representing a nearly 72 percent increase from the previous week. The latest unemployment figures, from September, show the rate at 7.8 percent. New numbers for October will be released next week.
Anthony Anton, president and CEO of the Washington Hospitality Association, warned that the restrictions put at risk the jobs of more than 100,000 employees, right before the holidays.
“At every step, our industry has partnered with the governor’s office and public health agencies, and the data shows our efforts are working,” he said in a written statement Sunday, noting that less than 1 percent of coronavirus cases have been traced to restaurants.
Inslee said he understood the challenges facing businesses and workers. He announced $50 million in federal aid that will be distributed in the form of grants and loans as soon as possible. He also reiterated calls on Congress to pass additional help.
“We cannot take lightly the impact on businesses,” Inslee said. “But this is clear: We also cannot enjoy a full economic recovery, which we all desperately want, without knocking down this virus.”