COVID-19: Inslee rolls out enforcement measures
As of March 28, there were 4,896 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Washington state out of 65,462 individuals tested. King county has the most confirmed cases with 2,161. Snohomish county has 1,068 confirmed cases. Lynnwood has 169 confirmed cases, Edmonds has 111, and Mukilteo has 31. A total of 195 individuals in the state have died due to COVID-19.
According to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at John Hopkins University, as of March 31, there were 838,061 global cases of which 177,452 were in the U.S. A total of 3,440 individuals in the U.S. have died due to COVID-19 and 6,038 have recovered. New York City leads the country with COVID-19 related deaths. Globally a total of 41,261 people have died due to COVID-19 and 175,737 have recovered.
Governor issues “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order
In his March 23 address to Washingtonians, Governor Jay Inslee issued a “stay home” order to all residents of the state.
This announcement came after Inslee shared the facts that more than 2,000 Washingtonians have contracted the virus, likely thousands more have the virus but haven’t been diagnosed and that the virus has taken more than 100 lives in the state.
This order bans all gatherings and closes most businesses except for the businesses that “are essential to the healthy functioning of the community” or those that are able to let workers work from home.
Residents are able to go outside for essential services like the grocery store or hospital, and this order doesn’t prohibit going out for a walk or a bike ride. Activities like those, Inslee said, are essential to the physical and mental wellbeing of all of us.
This order is similar to proclamations Inslee has put out previously, but these “measures are more stringent,” he said. Effective until midnight on April 6, 2020, this will minimize all social contact except for that deemed essential. The order bans events but also all get-togethers; Inslee mentioned things like sleepovers or pickup basketball games would not be allowed in addition to weddings and funerals.
48 hours from this announcement on March 23, Inslee said that this will close most businesses. Those not impacted include emergency care, transportation, critical local government operations including courts, media outlets and others. Any business that continues to operate must implement social distancing.
“We expect everyone in our state to comply with these measures voluntarily… But make no mistake, this order is enforceable by law… To be socially irresponsible at this time is to risk the lives of loved ones,” Inslee said.
For a detailed list of essential businesses, visit the governor’s website.
At his March 30 press conference, Inslee was joined by Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste to provide guidance to local law enforcement on enforcing bans on gatherings of individuals.
Inslee said that the first and main step of law enforcement is the education of businesses and individuals on their actions.
If a business or individual fails to comply after law enforcement intervenes, the agencies responsible for public safety could take formal enforcement actions. Inslee said these include citations, suspension notices, revoking someone’s business license, potential criminal charges, and even a Consumer Protection Act violation action.
Washington now has an online form one can fill out for suspected business violations. This can be found here.
It was also noted to report suspected large gatherings violating the order should be directed to the local police department, not through calling 911.
The stay at home order provides law enforcement with an enforcement tool for non-essential workers and activities. Mukilteo Police Chief Cheol Kang says that any violation of the order is considered a gross misdemeanor and is chargeable under state law. However, he emphasizes that the police department will not be randomly stopping people and hopes the enforcement tool will only be utilized on rare occurrences.
“We want to take a reasonable approach to this. We understand that we are facing a public health crisis and if we were to take an [extreme] approach to enforcement, that would create a public health safety crisis. That’s not what we’re here to do,” explained Kang. “I truly believe that the general public and our residents in town will be very compliant to do their best and do their part.”
The Lynnwood Police Department had a similar response that they posted on their Facebook. The LPD clarified their primary function during this time is educating people how to comply with the orders to stay at home. “We are not being asked to detain, arrest, ticket or establish checkpoints for compliance,” the post said. “Rumors of individuals needing ‘passes’ or ‘licenses’ to continue to provide essential services are not true, and our officers will not be asking for this kind of proof.”
Increased in unemployment claims
Inslee also spoke of the sharp increase seen in unemployment claims at this time, about an 843% increase statewide in the last two weeks.
Anneliese Vance-Sherman, Ph.D., Regional Labor Economist with the Employment Security Department, shared unemployment claim numbers in Snohomish County with the Lynnwood Times. The week of March 1-7 (“pre” COVID-19, as Vance-Sherman called it) saw 733 claims. The week of March 8-14 saw 1,386 claims, approximately an 89% increase from the previous week. The week of March 15-21 saw 13,692 claims, an almost 888% increase from the previous week or an 1,768% increase compared to pre-COVID-19.
Inslee concluded his March 26 press conference saying that the state government is looking how to move forward with a plan to make sure workers over 60 have access to benefits even if they work at an essential business. He said that we all want to get back to normal life, and he is confident we can do that if we continue doing all of these tasks asked of us.
Lynnwood Mayor Nicola Smith
After Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” address, Mayor Nicola Smith released a message to the Lynnwood Community.
“As the Mayor of Lynnwood, I am asking that each and every Lynnwoodian do their part to follow the Governor’s orders. Please stay home, and stay healthy!”
“Lynnwood, I know we can do this. This is a stressful time, but we’re all in this together. I encourage you to practice self-care, in whatever form that works best for you. Whether it’s meditation, prayer, a nice long walk, phoning or messaging a friend, or cooking, do something for yourself and for your mental wellbeing. Check in on those that may be feeling isolated, those that need a little extra support. We have an amazing community, and we will get through this together.”
Federal response, $2 trillion bill
The United States Senate approved a $2 trillion relief package in response to the COVID-19 pandemic the night of March 25. The package was approved in a 96-0 vote.
An estimated $560 billion of the package is going to individuals across the U.S. Those who filed individually on their taxes and make up to $75k can expect a one-time payment of $1,200. For married couples, that number increases to couples making up to $150k, and they would receive $2,400. Individuals who made between $75k and $99k and couples who made between $150k and $198K would see less money. Individuals who made over $99k and couples who made over $198k would receive no money.
Additionally, families would receive an additional $500 per child. College students who filed individually but were claimed as a dependent will not receive a check, nor will their parents receive a check for them.
In addition to the bill requiring private insurance plans to cover all COVID-19 treatments and vaccines and making tests free, it will temporarily allow gig workers and freelancers to apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance through the end of the year. Normally, self-employed individuals and freelancers cannot apply for unemployment.
The bill also provides relief for businesses, big and small.
The bill sees about $500 going to big corporations in loans and other forms as well as a ban on stock buybacks and $58 billion to airlines to help them remain open. About $377 billion is going to small businesses in the form of emergency grants, forgivable loans and relief for existing loans.
For further information To keep up to date on the COVID-19 pandemic, you can visit several different websites including the Snohomish Health District at www.snohd.org, the Washington State Coronavirus Response at www.coronavirus.wa.gov or the Center for Disease Control at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus.