Gov. Jay Inslee didn’t issue any new legal restrictions for Washington state residents in his latest press conference Friday afternoon, though he did strongly urge everyone to “stay home” unless it is truly necessary.
Inslee’s address March 20 both reiterated the importance of practicing social distancing in the wake of the novel coronavirus outbreak and also shared some data that showed signs statewide directives were having an effect. Though he said the “vast, vast majority” of people in Washington were following the orders limiting gatherings and shuttering some businesses where close contact can occur such as restaurants, “We are still seeing people behaving as if this virus is not a mortal threat in this state,” the governor said.
“If anyone is living a normal life today, you’re not doing what we need to do — for you to do — if we are going to save lives in this state,” Inslee said.
The governor recounted a conversation he had with someone who said their 18-year-old son was not taking the directives seriously, instead meeting up with friends in public.
“If you’re seeing an 18-year-old doing that, tell them they’re going to get cut out of the will if they don’t behave,” Inslee said. “If they don’t respect that, tell them they’re going to hear from the governor.”
The orders in place were “crucial” to stopping spread of the disease, which as of latest Washington State Department of Health numbers had infected 1,524 in the state, with 83 deaths. Though no restrictions such as a shelter-in-place order or closing additional businesses were made, “If people continue to ignore this common-sense provision, I will go farther to protect 7 million Washingtonians,” Inslee said.
Inslee implored Washingtonians with older family members to urge them to stay away from places where they would be in close contact with others. Though physical contact was a no-go, Inslee said there was an emotional need for keeping in touch during the time of isolation, asking for all residents to check in with loved ones.
“What’s the penalty for a young person going out to a restaurant or hanging in a social get-together? And it’s true, the penalty is you might kill your grandparent,” Inslee said. “That’s something we need people to think about right now.”
Reiterating a data-driven approach to decision-making in the wake of coronavirus, Inslee pointed to toll data from the Washington State Department of Transportation that showed traffic declines by as much as 61 percent below typical counts in the Seattle Area. In other places tolled by WSDOT declines were less, with Inslee saying that although there was measurable progress so far, “it’s not enough” to counter coronavirus spread.
Inslee also brought up data on testing for coronavirus, which showed that of the close to 21,000 tests conducted in Washington, only 7 percent came back positive for the virus.
“We cannot be fooled to think that that 7 percent means we are out of the woods,” Inslee said. Overall he said the data, while promising, “do not give us sufficient confidence that we have in any way, shape or form beaten this virus.”
Regarding medical responses Inslee said he received word that afternoon Washington State would be receiving 1.6 million N95 respirators, 560,000 surgical masks, 12 million disposable gloves, 650,000 disposable gowns and 74,000 canisters of disinfectant wipes coming from the federal stockpile. He added he spoke with the Army Corps of Engineers that day as well, indicating they were ready to prepare additional hospital units and isolation facilities for those without adequate shelter to self-isolate.
With news of restrictions on New York and California residents at the forefront of the national cycle, Inslee said Washington had already taken on much of what those two states had recently announced. Should the state take more drastic measures — talk of a “shelter in place” order chief among what-if scenarios — Inslee said it would be based on data and would take into account economic and safety impacts of shuttered businesses should an order be made.
Inslee said he was exploring a potential proclamation ensuring workers in vulnerable populations — 65 or older, or those with underlying medical conditions — would be able to leave the workplace and self-isolate with protections on income and the ability to return to their job after the outbreak.
“Employers have got to do their part to help flatten this curve,” Inslee said, stressing flexible work setups like telework, alternate job tasks or paid leave would help to meet that end.
In terms of greater statewide restrictions on “non-essential” employees being required to stay home, “the possibility exists” for greater measures as disease response develops.
“We have not made that decision categorically, and that decision will be based on all the data that we continue to get hourly,” Inslee said.