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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Inslee orders restaurants, bars and other businesses to close citing 'explosion' of coronavirus

Austin Jenkins
Northwest News Network
In a televised news conference on Friday, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced the statewide closure of schools. On Sunday night, he expanded his emergency declaration and ordered the closure of bars, restaurants and other gathering places.

Joining states like California, Ohio and Illinois, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Sunday night announced plans to order the temporary closure of restaurants, bars, entertainment and recreational facilities, as well as restrictions on gatherings to no more than 50 people, as the state continues to battle what he called an "explosion of COVID-19 in our state and globally." 

"These are very difficult decisions, but hours count here and very strong measures are necessary to slow the spread of the virus," Inslee said in a statement. "I know there will be significant economic impacts to all our communities and we are looking at steps to help address those challenges."

Inslee said King County, the epicenter of the outbreak, will implement the restrictions immediately. The Democratic governor plans to sign an updated emergency proclamation on Monday imposing the limits statewide beginning at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday. He did not indicate how long the closures would last. 

The forced shuttering of businesses will not apply to grocery stores and pharmacies. Inslee's office said other retail outlets would be required to reduce occupancy in their stores.

Restaurants will be allowed to offer take-out and delivery, but not in-person dining, the governor's press release said. 

Previously, Inslee had ordered a limit on gatherings of more than 250 people and closed all schools statewide for six weeks. This announcement represents a significant next step and escalation of the governor's use of his emergency powers and the state's efforts to slow the spread of the disease.

The additional, and unprecedented measures, come as the state of Washington has identified 769 cases of COVID-19 and reported 42 deaths, the majority in King County. Seventeen of Washington's 39 counties now have at least one reported case of the virus.  

In a statement Sunday night, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said the expanded state of emergency will also require the closure of fitness clubs, theaters, clubs and dance halls. She added that the city of Seattle is considering whether additional citywide restrictions are warranted.

"We have very limited time to slow the trajectory of the virus, and hundreds of lives depend on our actions now," Durkan said, citing projections that suggest if social distancing measures aren't taken the Puget Sound region could have 25,000 cases of COVID-19 and 400 deaths by early April.

"I know these restrictions are hard and impact the livelihoods and ways of life of our families," Durkan said. "But it's the right thing to do for the long-term health, safety, and vitality of our communities."

In Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown is expected to make a decision on Monday about whether to require restaurants and other businesses to temporarily shutter.  

*This story has been updated.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."