To combat the novel coronavirus, Gov. Jay Inslee is ordering Washington residents to stay at home, except for crucial activities.
Residents can still leave to buy groceries, seek medical care and go to work at essential businesses, Inslee said in a live televised address Monday evening, and they can still engage in outdoor activities that can be done 6 feet away from others, such as walking and biking.
But the new order requires the closure of nonessential business places and, the governor said, “is enforceable by law,” though broad crackdowns by officers aren’t expected.
“This is a human tragedy on a scale we cannot yet project,” Inslee said of the pandemic. “It’s time to hunker down in order to win this fight.”
The stay-at-home order goes into effect immediately and will last for a minimum of two weeks, the governor said. Any nonessential businesses still operating must close in 48 hours, though remote work can continue.
The order also bans all gatherings for social, spiritual and recreational purposes, whether organized by public or private groups. That includes weddings and funerals.
“This does not mean you cannot go outdoors, if you feel like going for a walk, gardening or going for a bike ride,” Inslee said. “We just all need to practice social distancing of at least 6 feet.”
Inslee had previously ordered school closures and pleaded with Washington residents to stay at home, and said he had hoped a mandate would not be necessary.
“But I have heard from health professionals, local officials and others that people still aren’t practicing these precautions,” he said. “If you want to have parties on the beach or play pickup basketball at the park or have sleepovers, these are no longer allowed for at least a couple weeks.”
Washington State Patrol Chief Jon Batiste said “the goal isn’t to make arrests.” However, David Postman, Inslee’s chief of staff, said the governor would not hesitate to demand enforcement actions if people gather in defiance of the order.
Washington’s definition of “essential business” is modeled on lists developed by the federal government and by California. Restaurants will be allowed to offer take-out and delivery, and supermarkets, pharmacies, food banks, convenience stores, banks and laundromats will be allowed to remain open, among other establishments. Critical manufacturing plants, government operations and communications services — including the news media — also are exempt.
Still, a range of activities will be shut down, such as construction on buildings not considered essential.
Inslee said the decision was difficult and acknowledged the move would “add to the economic and family hardship that many in our state are already feeling.”
“... The fastest way to get back to normal is to hit this hard,” he added, describing social distancing as “the only weapon against this virus.”
Inslee’s order followed a wave of similar decrees by states including California, New York and Oregon and by some Washington jurisdictions, including Yakima County and the cities of Everett and Edmonds, which have in the last few days ordered residents to stay home and shut down some nonessential businesses.
The governor had faced increasing pressure to impose more forceful measures amid reports that some people have been ignoring public health warnings and continuing to gather close to each other at some parks and beaches.
Earlier Monday, Rick Hicks, secretary treasurer of Teamsters Local 174, blistered Inslee in an open letter, saying the delay in a strict stay-at-home order risked the health of union workers who deliver groceries, UPS packages and work in sanitation and law enforcement.
Inslee cited traffic data last Friday as evidence that residents in some parts of Washington weren’t taking his pleas to stay home seriously enough.
State law gives Inslee broad authority to issue a stay-at-home order, University of Washington law professor Hugh Spitzer said.
An emergency statute says the governor can prohibit “any number of persons … from assembling or gathering on the public streets, parks or other open areas of the state, either public or private.”
It also says he can ban the sale of goods. There’s even a catch-all provision that says he can bar “other activities as he or she reasonably believes should be prohibited.”
The governor’s powers “are very, very strong, and they’re meant to be strong, because they’re really for significant emergencies — everything from wars, to riots to epidemics,” Spitzer said.
Washington’s emergency law says a person who refuses to leave public property when directed by an official to do so would be guilty of a misdemeanor, which carries a punishment of up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
A person who willfully violates an emergency order would be guilty of a gross misdemeanor, which carries a punishment of up to 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine.
“We expect everyone in our state to comply with these orders voluntarily … because everyone knows that all of our loved ones are at risk,” Inslee said Monday. “But make no mistake, this order is enforceable by law.”