Washington Gov. Jay Inslee will implement new sweeping restrictions on businesses and activities as the state reported over 2,000 cases a day over the weekend and average coronavirus cases in the state have doubled in the past two weeks.
“This spike puts us in a more dangerous a position as we were in March,” Inslee said during a press conference Sunday. “And it means, unfortunately, the time has come to reinstate restrictions on activities statewide to preserve the public’s well-being, and to save lives. These were very difficult decisions that have very real consequences to people’s livelihoods. I recognize that and don’t take those impacts lightly, but we must act now and act quickly to slow the spread of this disease.”
According to Inslee's new order, bars and restaurants will no longer be allowed to offer indoor seating. Outdoor seating will be allowed as long as proper safety protocols are followed, including tables being limited to no more than five people at a time. Restaurants will still be able to offer their customers to go orders.
All in-store retail, including grocery stores, will be limited to 25% capacity, and lingering in seated areas is off-limits. Religious services will also be limited to 25% indoor occupancy or no more than 200 people, with face coverings required at all times. No choir, band, or ensemble shall perform during the service.
In addition, all business meetings are prohibited. Only professional training and testing that cannot be done remotely is allowed will be allowed. Occupancy for meetings is limited to 25% or 100 people, whichever is fewer. Professional services must allow employees to work from home when posible and close offices to the public. If offices must remain open, occupancy is restricted to 25%.
Gyms will be prohibited from offering indoor services, though outdoor fitness classes can continue as long as they don’t exceed five people in a group. Meanwhile, entertainment venues like movie theaters, bowling alleys, museums and zoos will all be banned from offering indoor service, though drive-in theaters will still be allowed to operate under previously laid out restrictions. Long-term care facilities can only offer outdoor visits, with exceptions for end-of-life care.
Weddings and funeral receptions will be limited to no more than 30 people and youth and adult sports must be held outside only with all athletes wearing maksks. Personal services, such as barber shops and salons, are also limited to 25% capacity and real estate open houses are prohibited.
Inslee is also cracking down on indoor gatherings ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, noting that gathering with those outside your home will be banned unless everyone involved quarantines for two weeks and tests negative for the virus.
The restrictions are statewide and will take effect Monday, November 16 at 11:59 p.m. and will remain in effect until Monday, December 14. The modified restrictions of restaurants, however, will take effect Wednesday, November 18 at 12:01 a.m. Inslee noted the new guidance does not apply to education, including K-12 instruction and higher educational settings.
As of Friday evening, Washington's health department reported a total of more than 127,000 coronavirus cases, with more than 9,200 people currently hospitalized and more than 2,500 related deaths. Saturday saw 2,233 new confirmed cases in one day, breaking a single-day record set Friday.
The new restrictions are the latest widespread effort to mitigate the virus' spread since the state's stay-at-home order from March 23 until the end of May.
In order to help mitigate the financial impacts on businesses and their employees, Inslee said the state would commit $50 million in aid. Businesses can also apply for forgivable loans through the Small Business Administration's Paycheck Protection Program or from their local bank.
The governor's announcement comes as President-elect Joe Biden’s scientific advisers will meet with vaccine makers in the coming days as the presidential transition remains stalled because of President Donald Trump’s refusal to acknowledge that he lost the election. Inslee has not publicly commented on crowds during the celebrations across the country for Biden, which saw no social distancing, although the majority of participants wore masks.
Last week, Pfizer and BionTech announced that the latest trials of their COVID-19 vaccine candidate showed 90% effectiveness, giving many hope that an end to the pandemic could be coming soon.
However, Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned that it won't be like flipping the switch to return to normal life when the when the first vaccine doses become available for high-risk groups, most likely next month. He said Americans will have to keep up preventive measures such as wearing masks, observing social distancing and frequently washing their hands well into next year.
“Everybody is sensitive to what we call ‘COVID fatigue,’ ” Fauci told CNN's State of the Union. “But we’ve got to hang in there. We’ve got to hang together...because we can make it turn around.”
According to the latest update from Johns Hopkins University, the United States has surpassed 10.9 million coronavirus cases and more than 245,000 related deaths.
The Associated Press contributed to this report