SEATTLE, WA — On Thursday, the state of Washington reported it had seen an average of 629 coronavirus cases a day over the past seven days. That’s the highest the 7-day average has ever been, and part of the reason the governor says the state needs to create new restrictions to stop the virus from spreading.
Speaking at a news conference Thursday afternoon, Gov. Jay Inslee unveiled a new restriction on gatherings in Phase 3 of the Safe Start plan. Under the new order which goes into effect Monday, residents of Phase 3 counties will be required to limit public gatherings to 10 people or fewer. That’s a significant cut: currently counties in Phase 3 allow for gatherings of up to 50, which allows for larger events and even team sports. The order will be in effect for counties that are already in Phase 3, and for any counties that enter Phase 3 in the future. Phase 2 will still limit gatherings to five people or fewer.
“Basically it means that you really can only be with five people outside of your household in about 80 percent or 85 percent of the state,” said Inslee.
The governor says he knows that this is hard for Washington to adapt to, but that the state has to cut down on the amount of coronavirus transmissions happening in public spaces.
“This is somewhat of a challenge for us because the kind of things we have always treated as benign and innocent and healthy, are now dangerous,” said Inslee. “Hosting backyard barbecues with too many people that would violate this order is now a danger. Having a picnic with too many people that violates this order is now a danger.”
So far, the ban on gatherings has been self-enforced, police agencies have not issued any fines or arrests for large gatherings, and have been instructed to instead focus on education over enforcement. That will remain true, it will be up to Washingtonians themselves to choose not to gather, but if they do congregate and the virus continues to spread, Inslee says more restrictions will have to follow.
“If individuals, each of us, do not adhere to mask wearing, do not adhere to social distancing, do not adhere to these limitations on gatherings, today’s rollbacks may be a forerunner to additional rollbacks,” said Inslee. “We cannot rule out the potential for another stay-at-home order this year.”
The new restrictions announced Thursday also included a ban on live entertainment, both indoors and outdoors. Weddings, funerals and religious services will be able to continue as they do under the current guidance, and the current ban on all bar service also remains in place.
The governor noted that much of the current surge in coronavirus cases can be attributed to younger Washingtonians, and that it will be largely up to them to slow the spread going forward. According to the State Department of Health, during the first weeks and months of the pandemic younger people accounted for just 22 percent of coronavirus cases. By June, that doubled to 45 percent.
Hospitalization and death rates have risen recently but at the same level as the infection rate. Inslee says that’s likely because so many infections are just in young people, but worries that the cases will not end there.
“We unfortunately have to anticipate an increased rate of hospitalization as this young cohort of folks spread out and through their communities and through their families, so we really need the young generation to lead us,” said Inslee.
Despite the new restrictions, the governor said he remains hopeful that people will take the virus seriously once again, by wearing masks, socially distancing, and avoiding large gatherings.
“How individuals respond to this crisis will determine what happens to all of us combined,” said Inslee.
This article originally appeared on the Seattle Patch