On December 8, Gov. Jay Inslee announced that he would be extending the current restrictions on businesses and gatherings by three weeks due to Washington’s alarming spike in COVID-19 cases and rate of growth in the pandemic. The original mandate — which includes a ban on indoor dining — was due to expire on Monday, December 14. Now, restrictions will continue through the holidays, and at least until January 4. Outdoor dining at limited capacity and takeout service are still allowed.
Inslee said the decision to extend the restrictions was based on continuing concerns over the spread of COVID after the Thanksgiving holiday, the true scope of which is still being assessed. He said it would be “possible to recalibrate” the restrictions should cases fall by a significant number in the coming weeks. But the governor also pointed to increased hospitalizations and some troubling spikes in case numbers in recent days as the primary causes for concern. To date, there have been 191,000 cases of COVID in Washington and 3,080 deaths.
In conjunction with the restrictions extension, Inslee also announced an additional $50 million in economic aid to businesses and workers most impacted by the public health measures. This funding is in addition to the $135 million in relief announced before Thanksgiving that is already being allocated. Tens of thousands of grant applicants are already in the queue, and priority is given to businesses, like restaurants and bars, that have been most severely affected. But Inslee also urged the federal government to act on a more comprehensive relief bill soon.
While the mandate extension may not come as a complete surprise, given that the pandemic has continued to ravage the state and country, it still will come as a disappointment to restaurants who remain in limbo and doing everything they can to stay afloat, including shutting down for a few months.
There have been isolated incidents of restaurants defying the ban in the state, such as a restaurant in Chehalis, and Inslee said that enforcement would be stepped up, if necessary. He specifically said the Chehalis restaurant could be facing fines of up to $60,000, but noted the vast majority of businesses across the state have been complying with the order.