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Gov. Inslee bans indoor gatherings and dining as part of new COVID-19 restrictions

Gov. Inslee announces a ban on indoor gatherings and dining on Sunday morning. (TVW)

Gov. Inslee has announced new restrictions in an effort to curb the increasing cases of coronavirus in Washington state. His new order bans indoor gatherings and indoor service at restaurants and bars. Retail, including grocery stores, will be capped at 25% indoor occupancy.

Watch Inslee’s announcement here

“We recognize this will cause financial hardship for many businesses and the governor and staff are exploring ways to mitigate the impacts,” Inslee said on Sunday, calling it the most dangerous public health day in over 100 years in Washington’s history.

“Now we’re facing a third wave that is trending to be more dangerous than any we have seen before,” Inslee said. “Yesterday (Saturday), there were more than 2,286 cases. This is a record for our state.”

The new rules are effective at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, except in the case of restaurants. Those rules go into effect at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday. The new rules will remain in effect through at least Dec. 14.

“This is not forever,” Inslee said. “This is only for now.”

If an industry is not listed, it should continue operating under current guidelines. K-12 schools and childcare are exempt from the new rules and will also operate under current guidance.

The new rules are as follows:

    • 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.

The governor said that you shouldn’t expect the State Patrol to knock on your door if you choose to hold a big Thanksgiving, but he hopes it’ll help curb risky behavior.

Dr. Kathy Lofy, with the Washington State Department of Health, said that if the current doubling trend continues, we’ll soon see 4,000 daily cases in Washington. She said that the spread is a statewide issue, and if rates increase, hospitals won’t be able to handle the case load.

Lofy pointed out that dining at a restaurant, bar, or coffee shop is associated with an increased risk of transmission, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

“Ending this curve is essential,” Lofy said. “If we act now, we can be successful.”

Clint Wallace, a nurse at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, asked Washingtonians for help in fighting the pandemic.

“We’ve been in this pandemic for 8 months now and we are exhausted,” Wallace said. “We are pleading with the people of Washington and of the world to follow the directions and advice from health care experts.”

Wallace said COVID-19 patients require more care than typical patients, and hospital staff is tired.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan thanked Wallace and all the frontline workers trying to fight the coronavirus pandemic, calling them our first and our last defense.

“I want to call out Seattle residents and businesses because they have been taking the public health guidance so seriously, and their actions have saved lives,” Durkan said.

That said, the mayor said the city is not immune to the virus and is dealing with a rise in cases.

“We all wish we were in a different place and wish we didn’t have to take these actions today,” Durkan said. “In Seattle, nearly 20% of total cases are just from the last two weeks.”

The mayor said the city is committed to assisting businesses, particularly restaurants. She’ll be proposing a small business relief package in the coming days.

“We know that the next few weeks will be difficult,” Mayor Durkan said of the holiday season. “Show some love for your local businesses, buy from retail, support restaurants.”

King County Executive Dow Constantine echoed the mayor’s sentiment and said Gov. Inslee’s announcement is the right thing to do.

Constantine pointed out that people in King County are doing a good job of following guidelines, and said that 93% of residents are wearing masks. He’s also asking residents to help support local businesses and restaurants.

“We owe businesses our patronage and our financial support,” Constantine said.

Inslee’s travel advisory

The governor on Friday issued a travel advisory, asking travelers to Washington to quarantine for 14 days. This was in partnership with the governors in Oregon and California.

The advisory encompasses any travelers arriving in Washington from out of the state or country, “including returning Washington residents.” This does not apply to anyone who crosses state or international borders for “essential travel.”

“COVID-19 cases have doubled in Washington over the past two weeks. This puts our state in as dangerous a position today as we were in March,” Inslee said in a written release on Friday.

On Thursday night, Gov. Inslee and his wife addressed the state, asking residents to rethink how they celebrate Thanksgiving and the December holidays. In the same speech, Inslee hinted at further actions in the coming days.

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“Please don’t gather with people outside of your household, it’s just too dangerous,” the governor said.

Gov. Inslee first issued a stay-at-home proclamation on March 23 when cases in Washington state began increasing. Many school districts across the state began sending home students the week prior. The order immediately went into effect for gatherings both public and private, social, spiritual, and recreational. Even funerals and weddings were prohibited. Businesses had 48 hours to comply.

Grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, health care services, child care providers, transportation, financial services, the defense industry, critical local government operations, and media were considered essential. To-go and delivery from restaurants were still allowed.

The Stay Home, Stay Healthy order officially ended on May 31. Counties were able to apply to move forward June 1 on reopening plans after applying for and being granted permission from the state. The Secretary of Health would evaluate applications based on how their data compared to the state’s targets and the county’s ability to respond to things like new outbreaks, increased deaths, and health system capacity. Each county moved through a phased approach to reopening, with fewer and fewer restrictions in each phase.

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