OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Gov. Jay Inslee has extended the statewide "stay-at-home" order through May 4 in an effort to combat the spread of COVID-19 in Washington.
He said the state’s efforts to date have been robust “but we have an obligation to ourselves and to our loved ones to recognize this is a hard road ahead of us.”
"We have yet to see the full weight of this virus in our state," Inslee said. "This order is not only justified it is morally necessary. We are confident we have taken the necessary steps, but we cannot lose steam in this fight."
The order will keep non-essential businesses closed and most of the state’s more than 7 million residents home through May 4, saying social distancing measures must remain in place an additional month to minimize the spread of the coronavirus.
In recent days, Inslee had been signaling that his initial stay-at-home orders from March 23 — which were set to expire next week — would be extended. The new proclamation, announced during a news conference, extends the original order from two weeks to six weeks. Under previous actions taken by Inslee in response to the coronavirus outbreak, all bars, dine-in restaurants, entertainment and recreation facilities have been closed even longer, since March 17.
All businesses other than those deemed essential — a long list that includes grocery stores, pharmacies, banks, and gas stations — will need to remain closed until May 5. All public and private gatherings will still be prohibited and people will continue to be required to stay home unless they are pursuing an essential activity, like shopping for groceries, going to a doctor’s appointment, or going to work at an essential business. People can still go for walks, runs and bike rides outside if they maintain a six-foot distance from others.
Violation of the order is a gross misdemeanor, but the governor’s office has said the goal is education, not to arrest people. Earlier this week, the state released a website where people can report violations of non-essential businesses operating. Inslee said residents should not call 911 to report individuals or private group who are not following the proclamation, but should instead contact local law enforcement.
It was still possible that the order could be extended again, even past May 4, Inslee said during the press conference.
Public health officials and researchers say social distancing appears to be helping to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the Seattle area, where many of the first U.S. deaths occurred, but more rural areas of the state are seeing upticks in case numbers, Inslee has said.
Also under the order, all essential businesses that are allowed to remain open must implement social distancing and sanitation measures. Restaurants will be allowed to continue to serve takeout or delivery, mail will continue to be delivered and garbage and recycling will be picked up.
"We are having discussions about the next steps schools will take," Inslee said. The governor previously ordered schools closed through late April.
In Washington state, there have been 262 COVID-19 deaths and more than 6,500 confirmed cases. For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.
Nationally, more than 6.6 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week — doubling a record high set just one week earlier. Combined with last week’s report that 3.3 million people sought unemployment aid two weeks ago, the U.S. economy has now suffered nearly 10 million layoffs in just the past few weeks — far exceeding the figure for any corresponding period on record.