Governor Inslee, King County Executive Dow Constantine, and King County Public Health Officer Jeff Duchin spoke at a press conference today to update the public on new public health directives being put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19 and give hospital systems time to prepare for increased demand.
Executive Constantine warned that in Washington State, the outbreak is entering a phase of potentially rapid and widespread infection throughout entire communities, rather than concentrated pockets.
It is time right now for people to assume that they and everyone they meet has been exposed, and potentially infected.”
As the outbreak remains at a critical juncture, Gov. Inslee formally introduced new social distancing measures that mandate the closure of all restaurants, bars, and entertainment and recreational facilities.
On top of the required closures, a ban on gatherings of over 50 people will be included in a statewide executive proclamation that the Governor will sign later today. Gatherings of less than 50 people will also be prohibited unless they are in compliance with stringent public health requirements.
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The new orders go into effect at midnight tonight and will be in place through March 31, pending further extension.
Gov. Inslee proclaimed that since Washington State is the epicenter of the outbreak—representing about 2 percent of the United States population but about 20 percent of COVID-19 infections nationwide— it is especially necessary for the state to lead the way in implementing precautionary measures.
We are not powerless against the virus. We have on effective means against this virus, and this is distancing ourselves,” said Gov. Inslee.
The prevailing theme underscored by the Governor was that keeping the outbreak under control, or “flattening the curve” will require personal responsibility guided by science.
All of us have to recognize that for next several weeks, ‘normal’ is not in our gameplan.”
Going into greater detail about the new public health directes, Gov. Inslee said that sit down food services at all culinary establishments, as well as food courts and cafeterias at colleges, airports, and malls will be prohibited.
Restaurants are allowed to stay open and provide take out and delivery services.
College dining halls are permitted to provide “grab-and-go” meal services or deliveries to student residence halls.
Grocery stores and pharmacies, however, are permitted to continue operating. Daycare and childcare centers can also stay open, well as convenience stores and banks.
Speaking about a call he had with the President and other Governors this morning, Gov. Inslee noted that one point of concern is ensuring that the federal stockpile of personal protection equipment prioritizes states that are the most affected by the outbreak.
The Governor was pleased that the Trump Administration granted his request to change prioritization rules so that Washington can increase the volume of its equipment orders, rather than simply relying upon a baseline allocation which is determined proportionally by state population size.
Revealing more possible directives to come, Gov. Inslee said that non-urgent surgeries and medical procedures will likely be postponed to ease the demand on hospital systems. Public health officials will discuss the matter with providers this afternoon.
All in all, the goal undergirding all current and future social distancing measures is to build surge capacity in hospital systems. But if people do not practice the recommendations set forth by public health officials, the hospital system might not be able to accommodate future demand.
If businesses do not comply with new directives, they are subject to legal consequences.
In terms of helping displaced workers, the Governor said they are open to any possible solutions, including federal universal basic income proposals floated by some. To begin, Washington will utilize existing mechanisms through the unemployment system, including sick and family leave policies.
Gov. Inslee also signalled support for the federal government changing the classification of pandemics so that they’re considered disasters. This nominal change would open the door for providing people with federal unemployment benefits.
Policies regarding the suspension of rent and mortgage payments are also being considered, according to the Governor.