An Evolving Crisis
Wednesday, March 18, 2020
AN EVOLVING CRISIS: The economy of Cascadia was upended this week as hundreds of small local businesses closed their doors as a means to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Many of these businesses operate on a very thin margin indeed; and some may be gone for good, a huge loss to the local community.
Governor Jay Inslee joined a growing number of governors ordered a partial shut down of their state economies to limit the spread of the coronavirus. On Monday, Inslee announced an emergency proclamation that mandates an immediate two-week closure of all restaurants, bars, and entertainment and recreational facilities, as well as additional limits on large gatherings. The new orders go into effect immediately and remain in place until March 31, earliest.
The announcement comes after the recent spike in numbers of COVID-19 cases in the state and across the country, and touched off a firestorm of concerns in the local economy among business owners and their employees who may be facing weeks of closure.
“While the number of lab-confirmed cases in Whatcom County are relatively low, there is evidence of increasing spread of COVID-19 in our community, Whatcom County Health Dept. spokesperson Melissa Morin warned. “There is currently risk to all community members of being exposed to COVID-19, which is increased in a public setting or large gathering.”
“If we are living a normal life, we are not doing our jobs as Washingtonians,” Inslee said at a press conference. “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.”
Inslee made the announcement in Seattle with King County Executive Dow Constantine and other local and health leaders via streaming and telephone to practice social distancing measures.
“This is bigger than all of us, and I am fully confident that Washingtonians will rise to this challenge to get back to a normal state of our life as soon as humanly possible,” Inslee said at a news conference. “But all of us have to recognize for the next several weeks, normal is not in our game plan.”
Inslee said he recognized that “enormous economic implications and social disruptions” will occur because of the closures, but he said that in the coming days work would be done to minimize those challenges.
“But today we know we are doing this for a simple reason, to save lives of our loved ones in Washington,” he said. “Hours count. It’s not that weeks count, hours count. So we need very strong measures to reduce the extent and pace of this infestation.”
Inslee announced the two-week ban on any food or beverage service, regardless of location, that provides or allows on-site consumption. The ban will not apply to grocery stores and pharmacies, but includes restaurants, coffee shops, bars and taverns, and other places where large numbers of people gather. Takeout, delivery and drive-thru food and beverage services are not banned under the proclamation.
College and higher education campus dining halls are banned from providing on-site dining, but may provide take-out and delivery options. On-site food service and other related activities are permitted for childcare services and school-based food programs.
In his order, Inslee also included entertainment, leisure and non-essential services such as theaters, gyms and fitness centers, libraries and art galleries. The order could prohibit events of crowds of 50 or larger.
Other states have also moved to implement similar measures. California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sunday called for all bars, wineries, nightclubs and brewpubs to close in the nation’s most populous state. The governors of Ohio, Massachusetts and Illinois also ordered bars and restaurants to shutter.
Local governments continue to scramble to respond to the public health crisis, taking steps to ensure the most vulnerable populations receive care.
Bellingham Mayor Seth Fleetwood signed a proclamation of local emergency on March 12. Ferndale Mayor Greg Hansen followed with a similar order March 15.
“We have been operating under a state of emergency at various levels for over two weeks,” Hansen said in a press release. “Issuing this proclamation now is really an administrative step to allow the City to be more responsive and effective at meeting this crisis,” said Hansen. “This declaration will allow the City to expedite the purchase of needed supplies, change rules related to the use of sick leave, utilize online options for public meetings, change hours of operation at City Hall, or institute flexible work schedules for employees who need it.”
“Local and regional case and contact investigations indicate that people are being infected without contact to a known case and in people without a travel history,” Morin confirmed. “This and other evidence tells us that there are far more underlying cases in the community than the known lab-confirmed cases.”
“I am proud of how Washingtonians have stepped up and worked together,” Inslee said. “I know we still have long days ahead, but I know that together we will prevail and be a stronger state as a result. We will get through this together and life will return to normal, but the steps we are taking now will help us get back to normal sooner.”