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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 expected to announce new restrictions designed to slow spread of Covid-19

Austin Jenkins
Northwest News Network
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee will announce new Covid-19 restrictions at a Sunday news conference. The move comes as cases spike in thes state.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has scheduled an unusual Sunday news conference to announce new restrictions to combat what his office calls "the rapid and alarming rise of Covid in our state."

Previously, Inslee's office had said an announcement would be forthcoming as early as Monday.

While Inslee's office did not release details in advance of the 11 a.m. Sunday event, industry group emails sent to grocery store and restaurant owners, and obtained by the public radio Northwest News Network, outlined what Inslee is expected to order.

One email, from Washington Food Industry Association (WFIA) President and CEO Tammie Hetrick said Inslee would likely impose:

  • A ban on all indoor social gatherings.
  • An end to indoor restaurant and bar service.
  • A 25 percent occupancy limit for all retail, including grocery and convenience stores.
  • An updated mask policy.

Those details were based on information shared during a meeting between Hetrick and the governor's office, according to the email. 

An email sent to members of the Washington Food Industry Association outlined restrictions that Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to announce on Sunday.

"We realize the occupancy limits are extremely frustrating as we move into the busiest season of the year," Hetrick wrote in her email.

The WFIA represents grocery stores, convenience stores and coffee houses. 

A separate email sent to restaurant owners from the Washington Hospitality Association also said indoor dining would not be allowed and that the new rules would be in effect until December 14. 

"While this could still change, the odds are now very low," wrote Anthony Anton, president and CEO of the Washington Hospitality Association. 

The Seattle Times was the first to report on the new restrictions in Washington, which are expected to go into effect this week and would represent the most sweeping limits since Inslee issued a stay home order in March.

On Saturday evening, an Inslee spokesperson did not dispute the details of the emails and said more information would be shared on Sunday morning. 

In her email to WFIA members, Hetrick also said one percent of Covid cases occur at workplaces and .06 percent in grocery and convenience stores. The source of those figures was not clear and Hetrick did not immediately respond to a voicemail and email. 

The email noted that the WFIA had asked Inslee's office to increase the capacity limit, "but the Governor is following other states that have developed similar guidance."

On Friday, the governor of New Mexico ordered a 25 percent capacity restriction at grocery stores and other "essential" retailers, according to Newsweek

Also Friday, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced a fresh round of restrictions, including a 75 percent capacity limit on grocery stores. 

The email from the Washington Hospitality Association said fewer than one-half of one percent of Covid cases have been traced to restaurants and that it was preparing a "message of disappointment" to share after the governor's announcement. It also called the restriction on indoor dining "devastating" and said it could lead to 100,000 hospitality workers losing their jobs right before the holidays. 

"I am heartbroken as I realize this might be the end to many of your dreams," Anton wrote. 

The fresh round of Covid-related crackdowns come as Washington, and the nation, see a spike in cases. 

Recently, Washington has been breaking daily records for the number of people testing positive for the virus. To date, the state has experienced nearly 128,000 cases, more than 9,200 hospitalizations and 2,519 deaths.  

Last week, Inslee, Brown and California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a joint travel advisory that asks people to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in one of the three west coast states, or after traveling out of state. 

On Thursday evening, Inslee and First Lady Trudi Inslee delivered a televised address during which they pleaded with people to cancel their holiday travel and celebration plans. 

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."