By Jerry Cornfield
OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday unveiled a stepped-up effort to enforce his statewide “stay home” order amid signs of a slowing rate of infection in King County and a continued rise in Kitsap County and elsewhere.
At a news conference, Inslee said it’s “been very gratifying to see the vast majority of Washingtonians complying” with his March 23 order to shutter non-essential businesses and keep people home in an unprecedented attempt to blunt the spread of COVID-19.
But, Inslee said, compliance isn’t good enough. And, he said, “thousands of calls” have come in from residents concerned about businesses and individuals not abiding by restrictions set to expire next week. The governor is expected to extend them.
“These people are concerned about their health, the health of others, and how the actions of those who willfully violate this order may ultimately drag out the COVID-19 crisis even longer,” the governor said.
Inslee, joined by Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste, said the state will focus on getting businesses to follow the rules. A new online complaint form allows anyone to report a firm they think is violating an aspect of the executive order.
Companies will be contacted and encouraged to follow the rules. If that doesn’t work, a business could have its license suspended or revoked and it could face civil or criminal charges.
The goal is “100 percent voluntary compliance,” Ferguson said.
But he would pursue civil or criminal actions if necessary because “lives depend on it,” he said.
Anyone who thinks an individual is flouting the law can be reported to police. However, don’t use 911 unless it is an absolute emergency.
A violation could be charged as a gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to 364 days in a county jail or a $5,000 fine.
Meanwhile, Monday marked a somber anniversary in this pandemic. A month ago the state reported its first COVID-19 death.
Late Monday the state Department of Health had not yet released new data on the outbreak, but as of Sunday the statewide count of cumulative coronavirus cases was 4,896. Based on new numbers released by counties, the Washington death toll on Monday surpassed 200.
There are signs the deadly virus’s grip on Washington is changing.
A new study released Monday shows that public policies limiting person-to-person contact through social distancing appear to be “paying off,” helping slow the spread of infections and the number of deaths — in King County, at least.
The analysis by the Bellevue-based Institute for Disease Modeling compared data on a decline in interactions with reductions in COVID-19 transmission. Researchers concluded that as the number of interactions dropped, so too did the number of new infections.
“What we’re doing now appears to be working,” said Dr. Jeffrey Duchin, health officer of Public Health Seattle and King County.
But he cautioned there is still an epidemic and it’s way too soon to ease restrictions. Such a move would allow the deadly virus to come “roaring back.”
“This is a long-haul situation,” Duchin said during a briefing on the findings. “It would be very much a mistake to read these results as a reason to let up. It will be months before we can go back to our normal activities.”
In his news conference, Inslee said that while “we may have some success” bringing the rate of infection down in some areas, there is “disturbing news” in several counties where the percentage of people who test positive are ranging from 15 percent to 20 percent.
“It is very alarming to us, frankly,” Inslee said.
Everett Herald writers Joey Thompson and Phillip O’Connor contributed.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald net.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.