OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday extended his statewide stay-home order through 11:59 p.m. on May 4, saying it is proving to be an effective weapon in the war against the deadly coronavirus.
Originally issued March 23, the order aims to aggressively curb movement and interaction of residents by shutting down businesses deemed non-essential and banning public and private gatherings. It’s an unprecedented attempt to stem the spread of a disease which had claimed at least 262 lives in Washington as of Thursday.
“Since just over a week ago, the number of deaths and the number of cases has doubled,” Inslee said in a televised news conference. “This order is not only justified, it is morally necessary.”
Washington’s cumulative case count has risen to 6,585 since the outbreak began in January, according to the Department of Health.
In Kitsap County, Thursday’s tally of cumulative cases was 83 confirmed infections, with 10 on Bainbridge Island, according to the Kitsap Public Health District.
Washington, like most other states, expects demand for intensive health care due to the outbreak to peak in mid-April. Modeling for such forecasts assumes stay-home orders and other strict social distancing measures are not removed.
“We’re not out of the woods yet,” the governor said.
What’s OK, what’s not
Under Inslee’s order, which had been set to expire next week, residents can go outside and essential businesses such as grocery stores, gas stations, banks and pharmacies can remain open. Inslee’s office previously released a lengthy list of workers whose jobs are considered “essential,” and his office continues to review requests from companies seeking clearance to operate.
Inslee imposed no new restrictions Thursday, nor did he revise any guidance regarding implementation. Details of state policies and recommendations can be found online at coronavirus.wa.gov.
But prior orders such as the closure of schools, entertainment venues and other businesses where people congregate, such as fitness centers and churches, remain in effect.
Thursday’s directive cements, for at least another month, a new normal for many Washingtonians — no schools, no shops, no gym visits and, if you do venture out even for a walk, a mandate to stay at least six feet from the nearest person. Health officials urge people to thoroughly wash hands after touching pretty much anything.
For hundreds of thousands of people, it also means little or no work.
Joining Inslee for the announcement were John Wiesman, secretary of the state Department of Health; Dr. Kathy Lofy, the state health officer; and Vice Admiral Raquel Bono, state director for COVID-19 Health System Response Management.
Lofy said the latest analysis indicates the apex of the outbreak, during which demand for intensive health care will be most acute, will be April 11 in Washington.
‘Mind-boggling’ jobless claims
Earlier Thursday, the state Employment Security Department reported a record number of new claims for unemployment benefits last week, and more people are now receiving jobless aid in Washington than at any point during the Great Recession.
There were 181,975 claims filed the week of March 22 to 28, about 50,000 more than the prior week. The one-week tally is a 3,513 percent increase over the same week in 2019, a figure that ESD Commissioner Suzi LeVine called “mind-boggling.”
Statewide, 346,141 people were receiving state benefits as of March 28. Levine expects the number to jump when federal aid from the recently passed coronavirus response package becomes available this month. For comparison, the previous high number of claimants was 314,473 in January 2010.
“We expected this,” Inslee said at the news conference Thursday.
Nationally, nearly 6.6 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. That’s double a record set a week earlier, and it indicates that layoffs are accelerating as businesses shutter amid “stay-home” orders in most states.
In Washington, the construction industry suffered the biggest hit. There were 28,021 new claims in that sector, up from 5,021 a week earlier. Retail and wholesale businesses and manufacturing had the next-largest increases in terms of percentage.
There were 23,360 new filings in the food service and accommodations sector, down from the 41,309 the week before. Restaurants and bars had to stop providing on-site consumption under an order issued March 16, a week before the original stay-home directive was issued.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald net.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.