Gov. Jay Inslee declined once again on Friday to issue a legally binding “shelter-in-place” order requiring all Washingtonians to stay at home and avoid going to work or the store unless absolutely necessary, but said that if people continue to defy the existing direction to avoid gathering in groups, self-isolate when possible, and stay six feet away from other people, he will consider taking stronger action. Earlier this week, Inslee ordered all restaurants, bars, and other nonessential businesses to close except for takeout customers; banned gatherings of more than 50 people; and urged everyone over 60 or with compromised immune systems to stay inside and avoid contact with other people.
“I won’t be issuing any legally binding orders today, but that does not mean that we might not be back here soon to make further legally binding orders,” Inslee said. “And we understand that perhaps the force of law will not be necessary if Washingtonians act with the force of compassion, with the force of responsibility [and with] the sense that we are all in this together.”
Some groups—and some parts of the state—appear to be hearing that message louder than others. Using traffic on toll roads as an easily verifiable proxy for how many people are carrying on life as usual, Inslee noted that while traffic on SR 99 (through downtown Seattle), SR 520 (Seattle to Bellevue) and I-405 (the Eastside suburbs) were down, traffic on SR167 (Renton to Auburn), I-5 through Lakewood, on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, and through Spokane had barely budged. “We remain concerned that some in our state are not taking the measures that are absolutely necessary to preserve health and life and limb in the state of Washington,” he said.
“We are all potential transmitters of this virus and we all, to some varying degree, are potential victims of this virus, and if anyone is living a normal life today, you are not doing what you need to do to save the lives of people in this state.”
The governor repeated his admonition that “grandma” and “your 18-year-old” need to be told that they can’t go out and get together with friends even if they want to. On Monday, Grandma was not supposed to go to “art galleries” or come in close contact with her grandkids; today, Inslee warned against “coffee klatches” and “sewing needle get-togethers.”
Friday’s announcement did not include any news about financial assistance for small businesses or renters, who will still be on the hook for rent as soon as the 30-day statewide eviction ban expires. (In Seattle, the eviction ban is for 60 days). Nor did Inslee mention any new social-distancing measures for homeless people living in shelters or people confined to mental hospitals and jails.
Inslee did make one brief mention of the state’s prison population. Among the supplies that are slowly making their way to Washington’s hospitals, Inslee said, will be 650,000 disposable gowns, “and we think we’re going to be able to make some of these gowns in our prison industry, actually,” Inslee said. His office did not immediately respond to a followup question about the use of prison labor—which has been controversial in other states—to respond to the COVID-19 epidemic.