Washington governor avoids ‘shelter in place’ rule, but warns citizens they’re not doing enough

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Washington Gov. Jay Inslee speaks at a 2018 event in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg)

Editor’s note: On Monday, March 23, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee ordered all residents except essential workers to stay at home for at least two weeks. Read the story.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee surprised many Friday when he chose not to order residents to “shelter in place” as California and New York have in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Inslee instead used the press conference to implore Washingtonians to voluntarily avoid interacting with one another as the healthcare system prepares for a surge in patients battling the coronavirus.

“We need powerful volunteers in the state of Washington,” Inslee said. “We need everyone to volunteer to be part of this army. If we do that we might be able to avoid those further decisions that other states have made.”

Tolled roads in Washington show a “relatively steady” decline in travel, Inslee said. But the Washington Department of Transportation data shows some roads with 20-40 percent traffic declines or less, which Inslee stressed “is not enough.”

“It is clear that we have continuation of too many social interactions going on in our state,” he said.

Over the past week, Inslee has ordered schools, bars, restaurants, gyms, and other recreational facilities to close to prevent the virus from getting out of control. Large events are temporarily banned in the state, as are most types of smaller gatherings. The federal government is asking people across the country to avoid congregating in groups of more than 10 people.

Inslee said that Washington’s widespread closures are accomplishing many of the same goals as the shelter in place mandates other states have implemented.

“If you really drill down to what those orders have been, we actually have done a substantial part of that by closing our schools and restaurants and entertainment facilities … we are looking at this data to figure out the moment where it might make sense to do [shelter in place]. When we do that, we also have to be surgical in what essential jobs continue,” he said.

More than 1,500 people in Washington state have tested positive for the virus and officials say it is vital that residents minimize their contact with one another as much as possible to keep those numbers from ballooning. Inslee said during the press conference that more sweeping measures to enforce that request are still on the table.

Update: Later on Friday, Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin directed all residents and business owners to stay home. Everett is 30 miles north of Seattle, home to Boeing’s assembly plant.

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