Many Washington state businesses will stay closed and gatherings among Washingtonians are banned for another month as Gov. Jay Inslee announced today, April 2, the extension of the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order until May 4.
Inslee made the announcement during a press conference, the third he has hosted this week. Although the order does not add any additional restrictions, it does continue the period of time for the closure of non-essential industry that was initially set to expire next week.
The governor said an extension of the order was necessary as the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has still not completed the goal of preventing spread of the disease. He said the number of deaths from confirmed COVID-19 cases had roughly doubled since making the initial announcement of the order for residents to stay home March 23. There have now been around 250 deaths in the state, he said.
“We unfortunately have yet to see the full weight of this virus in our state,” Inslee said, adding the order is “morally necessary” to combat the disease.
Inslee said modeling from the University of Washington predicted more than 1,000 deaths through the pandemic’s course, and more if the state did not continue efforts to prevent the spread. State Health Officer Kathy Lofy said current projections showed a peak of COVID-19 April 11.
“The science is clear — more people will die if we stop now,” Inslee said.
Although some data showed that confirmed case rates were lower in Washington than hard-hit states such as New York, the percentage of positive tests for COVID-19 have been on the rise in recent days.
“We’re not out of the woods yet,” Inslee said.
The governor acknowledged the financial impacts of shuttered businesses and a ban on gatherings, pointing to past efforts that put a moratorium on evictions, allowing for mortgage forbearance, utility assistance and an expansion on unemployment insurance as actions taken to help ease the burden of layoffs and closures.
“We want to beat this virus as soon as we can so we can get these businesses open as soon as we can,” Inslee said.
Maintaining the health of Washingtonians by preventing COVID-19’s spread is an important part in moving back toward a strong economy, he reasoned.
Inslee said it’s possible the order could be extended again, but he expressed hope Washingtonians will adhere to the order in its current timeframe to prevent such a decision from being made. He didn’t rule out having to call a special session of the Washington state Legislature as part of COVID-19 response, noting that on Friday he plans to veto some spending bills that although he liked in theory had become untenable given resources used to combat the disease’s spread.
When the order is finally lifted, Inslee said there will need to be a commitment to “huge investments” to rebuild the state economy, in a similar fashion to investments made in response to World War II.
Regarding signs that COVID-19 was dealt with adequately, Inslee said the state would be “intensely dissecting all of the data” to determine when the order may be lifted, acknowledging that based on other viruses “these things can return, and we’ve got to be alert to that to make sure they don’t.”
“The things we are doing are showing success,” Inslee said, adding that modeling data Thursday showed about 80 percent contact reduction. He stressed that maintaining the order’s restrictions would ultimately determine whether or not Washington will return to business as usual early next month.
“We have a big say whether we’re done on May 4 or not, and that is whether or not we continue to socially distance,” Inslee said.
Following Inslee’s press conference, Washington state Sen. John Braun released a statement that called the extension “a sound decision,” though it did stress the need for economic support moving forward.
“Coming out of this crisis with a devastated economy would not only prolong the pain so many are already feeling but also harm the state budget,” Braun, R-Centralia, said.
He said preserving critical industries such as residential construction is necessary to ensure job losses are not permanent and issues of homelessness and food shortages weren’t compounded.
Braun asked that Inslee be more forthcoming with the types of metrics he will use to determine when the order could be lifted, saying he himself had asked but “to no avail.”
“If we know what is being measured, and the targets needed to reduce the isolation and restart our economy, it would help all of us to stay focused on behaviors that will get us there the soonest and allow people a sense of stability,” Braun said. “That would be good for everyone."