Washington state officials are banning indoor social gatherings and ending indoor service at restaurants and bars, following a surge in COVID-19 infections that has mirrored the peaks seen earlier this year.
Starting Monday at midnight, Washingtonians will not be allowed to meet indoors with anyone they don’t already live with. Exceptions will be made if people quarantine for 14 days before the social gathering, or quarantine for seven days beforehand and also have a negative COVID-19 test less than 48 hours prior.
In general, socializing with people from other households will be allowed only outdoors —and only in groups of five or less.
Gov. Jay Inslee announced the new restrictions at a press conference Sunday, which he called the most dangerous public health day Washington state has seen in the past 100 years.
The new restrictions on restaurants and bars will take effect at midnight on Wednesday, requiring the closure of all indoor dining areas. Previously, restaurants across the state could operate at 50% of their indoor capacity, as long as they limited tables to parties of 5 or less and followed social distancing and cleaning requirements. Takeout and to-go orders will still be allowed.
Retail businesses, including grocery stores, will have to curtail their operations as well, limiting customers indoors to 25% of capacity.
Other businesses will have to close entirely, including some that had recently resumed limited operations under Inslee’s phased reopening plan. Those include gyms, indoor movie theaters and museums. Some, including hair and nail salons, are permitted to remain open at 25% capacity.
In a statement, Inslee’s office called the new restrictions “very difficult but necessary steps” to stop the spread of COVID-19 and prevent the state’s hospitals from getting overwhelmed.
“We recognize this will cause financial hardship for many businesses,” Inslee’s office wrote, adding that the governor and his staff are “exploring ways to mitigate the impacts.”
The governor’s office did not put a time limit on the new restrictions.
The new rules come shortly after Inslee urged Washingtonians to stay home for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday to prevent further spread of the virus. On Thursday, Inslee joined the governors of Oregon and California in issuing a travel advisory recommending that anyone traveling across state lines quarantine for 14 days.
Those travel recommendations were more strict and specific than Inslee’s original stay-home order issued in spring.
“COVID-19 cases have doubled in Washington over the past two weeks,” Inslee said in a press release Thursday. “This puts our state in as dangerous a position today as we were in March. Limiting and reducing travel is one way to reduce further spread of the disease.”
In March, after the first cases of coronavirus in the United States were identified in Washington state, Inslee also put much private business in the state on hold, from construction to dental offices.
That work has slowly reopened over the spring and summer. Between May and July, counties were allowed to move to new phases of the reopening process as they met certain benchmarks, such as improved hospital capacity and testing availability.
In early July, however, Inslee paused the phased reopening process, saying cases were rising at a concerning rate.
Since then, things have gotten worse. On Friday, the state set a new record for the number of new COVID-19 cases in a single day, with the Washington State Department of Health reporting 2,147 new cases. Just two weeks earlier, health officials were alarmed to hit 1,000 cases in one day. According to the health department, those figures speak to the rapid spread of the pandemic in Washington state.
The rules Inslee announced Sunday are the most sweeping restrictions he has announced since issuing his first stay-home order in March.
Under the new rules, family members will once again be limited in their ability to visit their relatives inside long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes. With limited exceptions, such visits will have to take place outdoors or not at all.
Personal services — such as barbershops and nail salons — will be able to operate at only 25% of their maximum capacity. Under Phase 2 of the reopening rules, salons were allowed 50% occupancy, as were tanning salons and tattoo shops.
Receptions for weddings and funerals will once again be banned, although small ceremonies will be allowed. Those ceremonies must be limited to 30 people.
Restrictions on religious services will remain largely the same as before: Churches will be able to have 200 people indoors or up to 25% occupancy, whichever is lower. Congregational singing will be banned. Previous guidance strongly recommended against public singing since it has been connected to some super-spreader events and has been shown through research to be a major vector for spreading the coronavirus.
Youth sports, an area where Inslee loosened restrictions just last month, now face new rules. Games against other teams will be banned and athletes will have to wear masks. Before, some sports in some counties could play against other teams and masks weren’t required during play.
Real estate open houses will also be banned.
Even before Inslee announced the details of the new restrictions, some were calling for him to provide additional help to small businesses, many of which have struggled to stay afloat during the pandemic.
Inslee “must announce relief efforts for restaurants & small retailers to survive his order,” state House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, tweeted on Sunday.
Wilcox said Inslee should announce relief plans immediately instead of waiting for action by the Legislature, which isn’t scheduled to convene until January.
Wilcox added that he and House Republicans would be ready to convene an emergency session “at 24 hours notice” to pass relief measures, if the governor decides to call legislators back to Olympia sooner.
Also Sunday, state emergency management officials urged Washington residents to not rush grocery stores and buy large supplies of staples like toilet paper, as many did in the spring.
“Nobody is talking about closing grocery stores,” the Military Department’s emergency management division posted on Twitter. "Please don’t panic buy. Leave some for your neighbors.”
This story was updated to add more details about the new restrictions after they were formally announced by Gov. Jay Inslee.
Crosscut audience engagement manager Anne Christnovich contributed to this report.
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