New restrictions amid COVID-19 outbreak force more businesses to close

The move is designed to increase social distancing and slow the spread of the virus

CLARK COUNTY — In the race to control the spread of the novel coronavirus, the social circle is getting ever smaller for people and businesses on the west coast.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced the closure of dine-in restaurants and bars, and a limit of no more than 50 people in groups, at a press conference on Monday. Photo courtesy Washington Governor Jay Inslee
Gov. Jay Inslee announced the closure of dine-in restaurants and bars, and a limit of no more than 50 people in groups, at a press conference on Monday. Photo courtesy Washington Governor Jay Inslee

Today, Washington Governor Jay Inslee ordered the closure of all dine-in restaurants, bars, brewpubs, and coffee houses, effective Tuesday through the end of the month.

“If we are living a normal life, we are not doing our jobs as Washingtonians,” Inslee said at a press conference on Monday. “We cannot do that anymore. We need to make changes, regardless of size. All of us need to do more. We must limit the number of people we come in contact with. This is the new normal.”

Restaurants can provide take-out or delivery service during the closure. Pictures online showed several Starbucks locations with all chairs removed, enforcing the point that any drink order had to be taken out of the building.

Grocery stores and pharmacies will be allowed to remain open. Other retail locations can remain open, but the governor said they were expected to “ensure adequate environmental cleaning,” and designate an employee or officer to “implement a social distancing plan for their business.”

“The supply chain is strong,” Inslee said. “Grocery stores will continue operating and providing services to Washingtonians. There is no need to hoard food or supplies. Everyone needs to only buy what they need, and they need to remember when they overbuy, those things are taken away from their neighbors and others who need them now.”

The executive order also increases the limits on social, spiritual, or recreational gatherings from 250 to no more than 50 people.

“If you’re thinking about having a group with 49 people in the same room, think again,” Inslee said, addressing his comments to business leaders. “You need to think about how not to have meetings of any size if there is any way to get your work done in a different way.”

For the first time, the governor’s daily press briefing was conducted without reporters in the room, and with all officials present making sure to keep space between them. Questions were taken via a telephone conference call.

On Monday afternoon, the governor tweeted that the Federal Small Business Administration had agreed to issue a disaster declaration for Washington state, unlocking low-interest loans for businesses impacted by the shutdown, though in a list posted by Sen. Maria Cantwell later, only 32 of 39 counties were eligible, with Clark County not included. Cantwell said she was working with the governor’s office to expand the list to include all counties in the state.

In Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown issued her own executive order, limiting groups to no more than 25 individuals for at least four weeks.

This sign greeted customers at the McDonald’s in Woodland, where dine-in is no longer an option amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Photo by Mike Schultz
This sign greeted customers at the McDonald’s in Woodland, where dine-in is no longer an option amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Photo by Mike Schultz

At a press conference on Monday at the White House, President Donald Trump echoed advice from the CDC that gatherings of more than 10 people should be avoided at all costs.

“We’re calling on every American to do your part,” said Vice President Mike Pence, who is heading up the White House response to the outbreak.

While not every state has ordered the closure of businesses, several have taken it upon themselves to make changes. 

McDonald’s announced on Monday it would stop dine in at restaurants across the country, effective immediately, only offering drive-through service. The move currently applies only to locations owned by the company, but most franchise owners are expected to follow suit.

“Franchisees are strongly encouraged to adopt similar operations procedures while keeping the needs of their people and communities at the center of their decisions,” the company said in a statement.

tarbucks is one of many restaurants adapting to closures ordered amid the COVID-19 outbreak, including this one in Woodland. Photo by Mike Schultz
Starbucks is one of many restaurants adapting to closures ordered amid the COVID-19 outbreak, including this one in Woodland. Photo by Mike Schultz

All movie theaters across Clark County have also announced they will be closing for the next couple of weeks, at least. The Oregon Zoo also said on Monday that they would be closing, effective immediately, during the outbreak.

Latest numbers

As of Monday afternoon, the Washington State Department of Public Health said there were 904 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state, up from 646 on Sunday. The number of deaths rose by six, to a total of 48.

Clark County confirmed one more case on Monday, bringing the total to four in the county.

The health department said those confirmed cases come from a total of 11,582 tests conducted for COVID-19.

More testing capacity for COVID-19 is expected soon, but remains limited for now. Stock photo
More testing capacity for COVID-19 is expected soon, but remains limited for now. Stock photo

Oregon raised its total of confirmed cases by eight, making 47 across the state. So far the death toll in Oregon remains at one.

Local providers said they continue to work to increase testing capacity. 

In a statement, Legacy Health Systems said they still have limited testing supplies and are currently working to ensure they are used for vulnerable populations, including medically high-risk patients, unsheltered individuals, people in long-term care facilities, as well as symptomatic healthcare workers.

“Within the next few weeks we expect to have limited ability to perform this testing at the Legacy Central Laboratory using methods that are similar to those used by public health labs and the University of Washington virology lab,” said Legacy spokesperson Kristin Whitney. “We are also working to obtain materials for testing for our automated, high throughput systems that, once online, will increase our ability to test patients for this virus. We will begin to develop this test as soon as supply materials are received from the manufacturer.”

PeaceHealth Columbia Network said they are also hoping to be able to ramp up testing in the near future, but are currently limiting access to people being admitted to the hospital, those at risk of spreading the virus to others, and healthcare and public safety workers.

PeaceHealth is currently sending tests to Quest Labs, with a turnaround time of 48 hours.

Those who believe they may have symptoms are invited to call their doctor’s office for advice, or contact the Washington State Department of Health information line at (800) 525-0127, 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week.

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