Inslee says more public effort needed to slow down virus spread
No orders today, but doesn't rule out stricter measures in the future
Last updated 3/23/2020 at 1:39pm
OLYMPIA – While providing examples of success with the measures taken to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus, Gov. Jay Inslee said it was not enough, and that Washingtonians needed to do more on their own to begin to bend the curve of the outbreak.
“We have got to be serious about this virus,” Inslee said in a Friday afternoon tele-press conference.
Inslee said there were many examples and reports of people going about their daily business as if nothing had happened. Inslee said the orders he has issued so far, closing all K-12 schools and limiting gatherings to less than 50 people and to practice social distancing, are enforceable legally.
“The vast, vast majority of people in the state of Washington are honoring these orders,” Inslee said.
Inslee said he wasn’t issuing orders today, but was looking at the legality of sterner efforts to use if people don’t begin to take social distancing seriously, staying away from areas where people normally congregate, working from home if possible and ignoring orders to close bars and restaurants, he could begin taking more enforceable steps. States like California and New York have issued shelter in place orders to their citizens, and while Inslee didn’t say those were coming to Washington, he didn’t necessarily say they weren’t.
“If people ignore these provisions (gatherings, closures), I will go further to protect seven million Washington citizens,” Inslee said.
As evidence of the effects of reducing societal interaction, Inslee pointed to tolling/monitoring data from the state Department of Transportation. Since issuing orders closing schools, bars, restaurants and other event locations, traffic volumes on State Route 99 in King County has dropped 61 percent while volumes on SR 520 have fallen 59 percent.
But Inslee said traffic over the Tacoma Narrows Bridge have only declined 24 percent while traffic on SR 167 has declined 28 percent. Traffic on Spokane highways has fallen only 20 percent, as has traffic on Interstate 5 through Lakewood.
“That is not enough, that is not enough,” Inslee said of the latter instances.
Inslee also said employers have a “moral” responsibility to protect the health and safety of their employees through allowing them – especially the high risk group of adults over age 60 – to either remain at home or work from home. He added that his office was looking into legal measures that would allow those employees to receive unemployment and regain their jobs if they were to lose them during the outbreak because of refusing to come to work.
Inslee cited several examples he had heard of people violating the social distancing orders by attending gatherings or unnecessarily frequenting some businesses. Some had asked what the penalties would be for such behavior.
“The penalty is you might kill your grandparent,” he said.
According to the state Department of Health, Washington’s confirmed cases of COVID-19 continue to rise, reaching 1,524 as of March 20. The number of fatalities also rose to 83.
In an afternoon press conference in Spokane, Spokane Regional Health District Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz confirmed two more cases of the virus in the area, bringing the total to 11. As additional local steps to combat its spread, Lutz ordered the closure of all play structures at playgrounds and for all ages. This does not include facilities such as trails, parks, tennis courts, sports fields and golf courses as long as social distancing and proper use of hygiene practices such as using hand sanitizers and sanitizing wipes is practiced.
“It’s important that you and your family stay healthy by getting outdoors, by playing nd using the green spaces our park provide,” Lutz said. “However, we need to continue to emphasize the message we do need to be practicing social distancing and limiting our exposure to public places where we know the virus can be transmitted, which includes playground equipment.”
John McCallum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.