Inslee institutes second lockdown as COVID-19 surges through state

"Inaction here is not an option," said Gov. Jay Inslee, instituting new social and business restrictions as a "third wave" of COVID-19 surges in Washington.

OLYMPIA — Facing more than 1,000 new COVID-19 diagnoses per day and a 400 percent increase in hospitalizations for the disease, Gov. Jay Inslee announced new executive orders Sunday that will prohibit public and social gatherings, including extended family feasts like Thanksgiving, through at least Dec. 14.

“The choices we are announcing today are not easy ones,” Inslee said in a press conference, “but I believe they are the right choices given the dangers we face. … We have done this once or twice before, so we know that if we exercise diligence that we can continue to knock this down.”

The orders forbid indoor social gatherings with people from outside one’s household, unless they meet rigid restrictions: A 14-day quarantine for all guests prior to the gathering, or a seven-day quarantine plus a negative COVID-19 test result just before the event.

The directives also close the indoor service at all restaurants and bars, but continue to permit outdoor dining and to-go service. Gyms and fitness centers, bowling lanes, movie theaters and museums must close indoor operations. Religious centers must limit their services to 25 percent occupancy or no more than 200 people, whichever is fewer. Band and choir performances during church services are also forbidden. Wedding and funeral receptions are banned.

Inslee said schools are not required to cease in-person instruction, but must coordinate with their local health agencies and respond to local COVID-19 conditions as necessary.

” This is not forever,” Inslee said, pointing to possible progress on COVID-19 vaccines and treatment. “This is only for now.”

Washington saw 2,286 new positive cases reported yesterday — a record for the state that’s likely to be broken in coming days. The average daily number of new cases has more than doubled in just two weeks.

Chief health officer Dr. Kathy Lofy said like the rest of the nation, Washington is seeing “exponential growth” in coronavirus infections.

“The current trajectory of this pandemic has put us in a really difficult position as a state,” Lofy said.

The state first place emergency orders in March, shuttering many businesses and restricting most forms of social gathering. Many of those restrictions eased as the spread of COVID-19 appeared to come under control through the spring and summer.

Inslee said the key danger now lies in overwhelming local hospitals — overworking medical staff and decreasing the level of care available for non-coronavirus patients.

“It is a potentially fatal disease. Left unchecked, it will assuredly result in grossly overburdened hospitals. it will keep people from receiving routine but necessary medical treatment because of the stresses our hospitals will be under.”

Inslee and others at the press conference, like King County Executive Dow Constantine, pointed to an urgent need for new federal funds to aid businesses and unemployed workers during an intensified pandemic.

“People have been hurt by previous restrictions,” Inslee said. “… Every single one of those employees and business owners deserve a real feeling of empathy for what they’re going through.”