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Health Team

Washington state enacts new restrictions, months after it was first in the US to confront Covid-19

Posted November 15, 2020 3:53 p.m. EST

— Washington state on Sunday announced new coronavirus restrictions, months after suffering the country's first major outbreaks.

"We are today in a more dangerous position than we were in March, when our first stay-at-home order was issued," Gov. Jay Inslee said in a news conference. Most of the measures go into effect Monday at midnight and extend through December 14.

"The time has come to reinstate some of the restrictions on activities statewide to preserve our well-being and to save lives," he said.

Under the restrictions, indoor social gatherings with people from outside the home are prohibited, unless participants quarantine for 14 days prior, or quarantine for seven days before the gathering and receive a negative Covid-19 test result no more than 48 hours prior. Outdoor gatherings will be limited to five people.

Restaurants and bars will be limited to outdoors with capacity limits and to-go service, Inslee said. In-store retail stores, including grocery stores, are limited to 25% capacity.

Religious services will also be limited to 25% of indoor capacity or 200 people, whichever is less, Inslee said. Performances by choirs, bands and ensembles are also prohibited. The order allows for solo performances, but Inslee said it's "too risky" for indoor choirs.

The new restrictions will not impact childcare and K-12 schools, Inslee said. School districts that are currently holding in-person learning do not need to close, unless local officials make that determination.

The new restrictions are a reflection of the drastic rise in cases seen not only in Washington state but across the country. And they further underscore the threat of the ongoing fall surge many states are struggling to control.

As of Sunday morning, the state had 127,731 cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Just over 2,500 people have died.

In introducing the new measures, Inslee cited the coming winter months, when gatherings will move indoors, raising the risk of spreading the virus. By reinstating prevention measures, the governor indicated he hoped to avoid increased strain on hospitals, long-term economic damage, and "untold numbers of deaths."

"Left unchecked, (Covid-19) will assuredly result in grossly overburdened hospitals," he said. "It will keep people from receiving routine but necessary medical treatment because of the stresses our hospitals will be under."

He acknowledged the negative impacts the measures could have on businesses. "But we have recognized what is at stake here, which is life itself. And we're making some hard decisions in that regard."

Fall surge has 'erased' earlier progress

Washington state was among the first to confront Covid-19 when the virus began emerging in the US last spring.

The first case on US soil was confirmed in Washington state in January. By March, focus was on a particularly bad outbreak that occurred in a nursing home just outside Seattle, where dozens of residents died. Schools in Washington state were among the first to close, a step soon taken by states and school districts across the country.

After weeks of battling the pandemic, Seattle and the state were able to largely reverse course, and it was overshadowed by the outbreak in New York, which quickly became the US epicenter.

The state saw a resurgence pf Covid-19 over the summer, leading the governor to reinstate certain restrictions.

But the governor said Sunday the latest spike is more dangerous than any seen in the state before.

Washington state reported its highest daily increase in cases Saturday with 2,286, according to the Department of Health's coronavirus dashboard, breaking a record set the day before. Inslee said Sunday that average new daily cases had doubled in the last two weeks.

"The fall surge, which is getting worse every day, has erased the notable progress that Washingtonians made this summer," the state's Department of Health said in a news release.

In Snohomish County just north of Seattle, an outbreak in a long-term care facility over the last two weeks has resulted in 94 cases -- 53 among residents and 41 among staff -- local health officials said in a news release Friday.

Deputy Secretary of Health for Covid-19 Response Lacy Fehrenbach urged people to consider the risk of social gatherings, especially during the holidays.

"The only way to slow the spread is for us all to recommit to the actions we know work," she said, adding the state has flattened the curve before, "and it's time to do it again."

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