Reactions among Clark County’s state legislators to new COVID-19 restrictions are split along party lines, with Democrats largely supportive of Gov. Jay Inslee’s measures and Republicans criticizing the stricter approach as out of step with science.
Inslee announced new limitations on gatherings and public spaces over the weekend, a measure aimed at slowing the spike of new coronavirus cases he called “more dangerous than any we have seen before.”
Shortly after the announcement, Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, issued a statement claiming that Inslee’s decision “has her questioning whether he truly understands the depth of the economic and personal damage they will cause.”
“It’s disheartening how the governor’s words and actions don’t match up. He claims the ‘science’ is driving this new round of restrictions when the data simply don’t support it,” Wilson said.
The latest restrictions ban indoor service at bars and restaurants, allowing only to-go orders and outdoor dining with tables seating no more than five people. Gyms, theaters, bowling alleys, museums, zoos and aquariums must close, while retail stores — including grocery stores — must limit their capacity to 25 percent.
The restrictions additionally limit outdoor gatherings to five people and ban indoor gatherings with members of other households unless participants quarantine for 14 days, or pass a COVID-19 test and then quarantine for seven days. That piece, Inslee acknowledged over the weekend, is unenforceable, but he said he hopes people voluntarily follow the guidelines.
The new rules will remain in place for four weeks, potentially influencing Washingtonians’ Thanksgiving plans.
Wilson pointed to data from Clark County Public Health that indicates food establishments were likely responsible for just 10 of the 1,265 cases traced last month (the data on tracing is very limited, according to Public Health, and relies on a voluntary interview process). The same data indicates that 299 cases in October likely came from a household member, and another 126 contracted COVID-19 from private social gatherings.
“If the statistics from his own Department of Health say people are at the greatest risk in their own homes, and the hospitality industry is connected to only 1 percent of the COVID infections, why is he going after the restaurants again?” she asked.
Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, echoed Wilson’s sentiment.
“As a former science teacher I’m puzzled by Gov. Inslee’s brand of ‘science.’ The latest data about the spread of COVID-19 in our state suggest it’s become safer to be seated inside a restaurant or shopping in a grocery store than it is to be at home,” Rivers said. “In that sense it would seem the governor is making people less safe by prohibiting them from indoor dining and limiting the number who can be inside a retail establishment.”
Sen. Annette Cleveland and Rep. Monica Stonier, both Democrats representing west Vancouver, expressed support for the new measures. Both also acknowledged the strain that the restrictions will put on businesses still recovering from the initial shutdown eight months ago.
“This is not where any of us want to be. The bottom line is that if people could find a way to be more diligent about limiting their exposures in their personal circles in their homes — in their adult Halloween parties, in their family and friends’ barbecues and dinner parties — we would not be seeing the spike that we’re seeing right now,” Stonier said.
She and her extended family, some of whom have health conditions that make them vulnerable to the virus, are planning to play a trivia game via video chat on Thanksgiving, she said.
“We’re responsible as elected officials for the health and safety of the public,” Stonier said. “We sometimes have to make tough choices.”
November isn’t yet over, but it’s already the worst month for new COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations in Clark County. County Deputy Health Officer Dr. Steven Krager said this week that he believes Halloween parties contributed to the spike.
Data that shows cases are spread at home, Stonier pointed out, is partially a result of the in-home gatherings that took place over Halloween and will likely continue into the holiday season unless people take the governor’s guidance seriously.
“The riskiest place for people to be in their homes with other people who are coming into their homes in close spaces,” Stonier said. “The reason it’s the most dangerous place right now is that people are not distancing themselves or quarantining before they gather.”
Rep. Larry Hoff, R-Vancouver, said that the virus is real and serious but that it’s presumptuous for the governor to try to tell families how to celebrate their holidays.
“Who’s the governor to suggest that Joe or Jane Citizen can’t open their household to the rest of their families or neighbors?” Hoff said.
“I don’t have a problem with individuals following their heart and celebrating their family traditions as they have a desire to,” Hoff continued.”If they decide to be safe and sound… that’s certainly not a bad option. But it’s their option. It’s their house.”
Hoff said Inslee’s decision to close or limit the capacity of certain types of businesses shows he’s out-of-touch.
“He can’t possibly understand what the effect is on these small businesses. He’s continuing to get paid,” Hoff said. “These businesses are shut down and scratching to survive.”
Cleveland, the chair of the Senate Health Care Committee, said in a written statement that the best way to get the virus under control and resume life as normal is to commit to the precautionary measures in the meantime.
“The way to get through this isn’t through half-measures or pretending we can do business as usual and that the virus will magically disappear. The shortest, straightest line to recovery for our businesses and our households is by controlling the virus,” Cleveland wrote. “If we don’t do that, we’ll be in a perpetual state of lockdown as we react to new outbreaks.”