With the virus spreading faster than ever in Seattle, King County, the state, and the nation, Gov. Jay Inslee has announced a new round of severe restrictions on businesses and social gathering in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 before the state’s hospital and health system is overwhelmed.
State and local officials have said the fall surge here is being fueled by small gatherings with friends and family when masks come off and the virus is given more time and opportunity to spread. Experts warn that any prolonged exposure — especially indoors and even when masked — can be dangerous.
Sunday, Inslee said he wanted it to be clear that the new restrictions were not a matter of punishing restaurants and other businesses for the outbreak. “This is not a matter of trying to assign blame,” Inslee said. But health officials added that restaurants have been identified as the most common cause of outbreaks, typically involving staff becoming ill on the job.
Calling the day the state’s “most dangerous” in 100 years, Inslee said his goal is to keep the most people alive as possible before a vaccine arrives.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan spoke during the morning’s session but did not announce any additional restrictions in her city beyond those being rolled out across the state. While facilities like pools will close, Seattle parks and playgrounds should remain open.
UPDATE: In a live interview with Converge Media and CHS on Monday, the mayor said the information the city has from health officials shows what has been “a handful of employer outbreaks” but that bars and restaurants have been the most common source in those business-related situations. The mayor encouraged people to visit seattle.gov/mayor/covid-19 for a list of resources and local programs they can apply to immediately for assistance during the lockdown and crisis.
UPDATE 11/18/2020: Industry advocates are pointing out that restaurants and bars are being unfairly singled out. According to the state’s latest sector report (PDF), Washington’s leading employment categories by total case count are Health Care and Social Assistance, Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Hunting, Retail Trade, Manufacturing, and then Accommodation and Food Services.
The new limitations included a ban on indoor dining and 25% capacity restrictions on the number of customers allowed inside grocery stores and other retail venues. The new lockdown will include closures of indoor and outdoor recreational facilities including gyms, movie theaters, museums, zoos, and aquariums. Real estate open houses are again prohibited. And religious services will again be limited with a 25% capacity or 200-person restriction — whichever is fewer.
Youth sports practices, meanwhile, will be allowed to continue and services including hair salons and barbershops can continue to operate. Childcare facilities and private schools providing in-person instruction to young children can also continue. Seattle Public Schools is yet to restore any wide scale in-person learning.
Indoor social gathering is prohibited while outdoor should be limited to no more than five people from outside the household.
The new restrictions will go into effect starting Tuesday morning with restaurants and bars getting an extra day to lock things down before a Wednesday morning start of the new limits.
They are planned to be in place for at least four weeks — and possibly longer — until cases subside.
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Some aspects of the lockdown are the severest yet for the state and comes with even slimmer support from the federal government as a new relief package remains in limbo in Washington D.C. Unemployment in Washington dropped to 7.8% in September after reaching the teens early in the pandemic. Still, between September 2019 and 2020, Washington lost more than 200,000 jobs. Inslee, Sunday, said state grant and relief programs including another $50 million for small businesses will be rolled out “as swiftly as we can.”
The state also continues to maintain a moratorium on evictions though pressure has grown to narrow the parameters of the restriction.
Sunday’s announcement comes 250 days after the first round of restrictions were put in place across the state in March as a third, larger wave of new cases continues to crest in Washington. In October, the state and county began moving beyond the early phase process of COVID-19 restrictions with a more surgical approach to important activities and categories based on key metrics. For a few weeks, those metrics showed a positive situation for areas like King County. Some even found ways to celebrate Halloween. Now those gains have been fully wiped away.
The city’s homelessness crisis, meanwhile, is colliding fully with its COVID-19 crisis. City parks and playfields including Cal Anderson and Miller Community Center are filled with tents under policies halting encampment removals except in instances of extreme public health and public safety concerns in response to CDC guidelines to reduce the spread of COVID-19. New funding has been put in place to increase efforts for outreach to help manage the camps and move more people into shelter. Congregate homeless shelters are not subject to the new lockdowns.
Word that the restrictions were coming grew following lockdowns in California and Oregon, and a Thursday night address from the governor warning of the surging “third phase” of the virus and pleading for people to avoid gathering during the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. Inslee’s office has said the governor focused the state’s recent response on reopening and individual responsibility. “It wouldn’t be necessary if people are able to do the other things they can do right now on their own,” a spokesperson said last week about rolling back the state’s reopening efforts.
But the case counts in the state have surged. In King County, the recent daily average is approaching 500 cases. With somewhere around 2% of all cases ending in death, county officials could very well be facing 10 or more COVID-19-related deaths a day in December. 828 people have already died here including a dozen reported across Capitol Hill and the Central District. The highest death rates in the county, meanwhile, are found to the north and the south of Seattle.
Officials are now adding new restrictions to try to slow the spread of the virus before health systems are again overloaded and people who would not be at risk of hospitalization end up needing care because of a lack of assistance and resources. If nothing else, the restrictions should help remind people to take the situation more seriously.
Medical facilities have been preparing for the latest increases. UW Medicine last week announced it has implemented “surge plans so that we can care for more patients with COVID-19.” UW says more than twice as many people are currently hospitalized by the virus than a month ago.
Grocery stores around Capitol Hill and the Central District were busy but not overwhelmed Saturday as word of the coming restrictions spread. Restaurants and bars that have been open for sit down service encouraged patrons to come out for a last visit before the lockdowns take effect. The Washington Hospitality Association said it received information about the restrictions and notified members Saturday. Still, some venues like the Wildrose bar criticized the timing of the governor’s announcement.
Meanwhile, restaurants and bars able to invest in outside patio and street setups may be able to more easily survive the coming downturn in business.
A preliminary announcement from the state is below.
In order to slow the spread of rapidly increasing COVID cases in our state, and ensure that hospital and medical systems are not overwhelmed, we are taking the very difficult but necessary steps to protect public health.
We recognize this will cause financial hardship for many businesses and the governor and staff are exploring ways to mitigate the impacts.
These rules are effective Monday, Nov. 16th at midnight (12:01 am Tuesday), except for where noted as in the case of restaurants (detailed below).
If the activity is not listed, it should follow its current guidance. All K-12/higher education and childcare is exempt from the new restrictions and will follow current guidance. These restrictions do not apply to courts and court related proceedings.
- Indoor social gatherings with people from outside your household are prohibited.
- Outdoor social gatherings should be limited to 5 people from outside your household.
- Restaurants and bars are closed for indoor service. Outdoor dining and to-go service is permitted. Outdoor dining must follow the outdoor dining restriction. Table size limited to 5 for outdoor dining. These restaurant restrictions go into effect at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, November 18.
- Fitness facilities and gyms are closed for indoor operations. Outdoor fitness classes may still occur but they are limited by the outdoor gathering restriction listed above. Drop off childcare closed.
- Bowling Centers are closed for indoor service.
- Miscellaneous Venues: All retail activities and business meetings are prohibited. Only professional training and testing that cannot be performed remotely is allowed. Occupancy in each meeting room is limited to 25% or 100 people, whichever is fewer.
- Movie Theaters are closed for indoor service. Drive-in movie theaters are still permitted and must follow the current drive-in movie theater guidance.
- Museums/Zoos/Aquariums are closed for indoor service.
- Real Estate open houses are prohibited.
- Wedding and Funerals receptions are prohibited. Ceremonies are limited to no more than 30 people.
- In-store retail limited to 25% indoor occupancy and must close any common/congregate non-food related seating areas. Food court indoor seating is closed.
- Religious services limited to 25% indoor occupancy no more than 200 people, whichever is fewer. No choir, band, or ensemble shall perform during the service. Soloists are permitted to perform. Facial coverings must be worn at all times by congregation members and no congregational singing.
- Professional Services are required to mandate that employees work from home when possible, and to close offices to the public. If they remain open, occupancy is restricted to 25%.
- Personal services are limited to 25% of maximum occupancy.
- Long-term Care Facilities outdoor visits only. Exceptions can be made for essential support person and end-of-life care.
- Youth (school and non-school) and adult sporting activities limited to outdoor only for intrateam practices, masks required for athletes.
A household is defined as the individuals residing in the same domicile.
The full announcement is here.