OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday ordered Washington residents to stay at home — except for crucial activities like buying groceries and seeking medical care — in an effort slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
“This is a human tragedy on a scale we cannot yet project,” Inslee said about the pandemic in a live televised address Monday evening. “It’s time to hunker down in order to win this fight.”
The stay-at-home order goes into effect immediately and will last for a minimum of two weeks, the governor said. It requires the closure of non-essential businesses and, the governor said, “is enforceable by law,” though crackdowns by officers aren’t expected.
The order affects all gatherings of people for social, spiritual and recreational purposes, whether by public or private groups. That includes weddings and funerals. Any non-essential businesses still operating must close in 48 hours.
“This does not mean you cannot go outdoors, if you feel like going for a walk, gardening or going for a bike ride,” Inslee said. “We just all need to practice social distancing of at least six feet.”
Inslee said he had hoped a mandate would not be necessary. “But I have heard from health professionals, local officials and others that people still aren’t practicing these precautions,” he said. “If you want to have parties on the beach or play pickup basketball at the park or have sleepovers, these are no longer allowed for at least a couple weeks.”
Washington’s definition of “essential business” is modeled on lists developed by the federal government and by California. Restaurants will be allowed to offer take-out and delivery, and supermarkets, pharmacies, food banks, convenience stores, banks and laundromats will be allowed to remain open, among other establishments.
A range of businesses will be shuttered, and some construction sites likely will need to shut down.
Inslee said the decision was difficult and acknowledged the move would “add to the economic and family hardship that many in our state are already feeling.”
But he argued the order was the best choice.“The fastest way to get back to normal is to hit this hard,” he said, describing social distancing as “the only weapon against this virus.”
LEAVENWORTH — Warmer weather and sunnier days often mark the beginning of Leavenworth’s visitor season, but not this year.
Now, with health officials urging people to stay home, the prevention of COVID-19 spread has nearly cut off tourist traffic.
Leavenworth Mayor Carl Florea said many shops have no way to stay open, and that means layoffs. These are scary times, he said, with the unknown causing much of the fear.
“We’re taking it a day at a time,” he said.
Local businesses, including lodging and restaurants, heavily rely on tourist traffic. Some hotels, restaurants and bars have closed and others have sought other ways to serve customers.
Most likely, Leavenworth will be dealing with mass shutdowns for the next few months, he said, but how long the crisis will last is unknown.
Florea said he hopes people’s pent-up demand to go out and do something will help to benefit Leavenworth’s now struggling shops after the COVID-19 crisis passes.
Everyone has fears, but fear should not lead decisions — love should, he said. The community will get through this together, the mayor said.
Rhia Foster, one of three employees at Bushel & Bee Taproom, said March is typically a slower month but “definitely not as extreme” as how it is now. Having a little break now is nice, though disconcerting, she said.
The taproom is a small gathering spot in Leavenworth, often bringing together various musicians and locals. For Foster, it’s a “community hang.”
“This would be a time when we would be embracing our community” by going out and seeing each other, she said. Life in town is “a little strange” at the moment, she added.
Just like other businesses, the taproom’s revenue is hurting, she said.
Foster said she is very appreciative of the Leavenworth community coming together to help each other. It is impressive the number of people who have reached out, she said.
Nancy Smith, executive director of the Leavenworth Chamber of Commerce, said she is hoping the COVID-19 crisis reconciles itself before Leavenworth’s busier seasons start in the summer.
If it does not, Leavenworth will lose restaurants and shops on smaller margins, she said. “We’re in it for the long haul. But, hopefully, it’s a shorter haul,” she said.
There’s always up and downs in the market for a variety of reasons, be it avalanches or wildfires, she said. Hopefully, previous big months for revenue, like December, will help hold people through, she said.
Comparatively speaking, this March will have some significant drops in revenue for businesses, Smith said. But people are pretty inventive, she said, and continue to think of good methods to help business in safe, appropriate ways.
“Folks have been able to rally around the needs that are out there,” she said. “We’re a small community with big hearts.”
LEAVENWORTH — Ryan Irvin’s symptoms started with a sore throat. A few hours later came the lethargy and exhaustion. Within a day, he had a fever and chest tightness.
“That first morning we were feeling good. We went down into Wenatchee to run some errands and grab some groceries and overall felt just fine,” he said in a phone interview Saturday. “By the time we got back, I live out by the Fish Lake area, after making the hour drive home it hit us all at once.”
The next day Irvin, 29, was tested for COVID-19. He found out he had the virus when the results came back positive three days later, he said.
He has one of only a couple dozen positive cases in North Central Washington. There were three positives in Chelan County and 18 in Grant County as of Saturday evening.
NCW — The Chelan-Douglas Health District says it received a report Friday morning of the third lab-confirmed case of COVID-19 in Chelan County.
Irvin was tested March 14 at Central Washington Hospital in Wenatchee, he said.
“I called their line and because I had the chest tightness and the fever, along with the cough, they basically wanted me to come down to the hospital to X-ray for pneumonia,” he said. “So I made it in at the start when they still had tests available.”
His girlfriend was showing symptoms at the time, but couldn’t go through with the coronavirus nasal swab since she had previous reconstructive surgery that made the process very painful.
“It just wasn’t going to be an option so we’ve just kind of assumed she has it as well because we’ve followed the exact same timelines,” he said.
After the test, they returned home to the Leavenworth area to wait for results. Over the next couple days their symptoms worsened, Irvin said.
His fever has been hovering around 100-101 degrees, but the chest tightness and difficulty breathing has taken the biggest toll, Irvin said.
“That’s been the scariest part of the endeavor so far. I’ve never had respiratory symptoms before, so I imagine there are other scenarios where that would arise, but it’s weird to feel like you can’t breathe well,” he said.
Then Irvin’s symptoms leveled out toward the end of the week, he said.
“Things have been pretty stable now. I wouldn’t say there’s been big improvements, but there’ve been small steps in the right direction,” he said. “It’s hard because it’s kind of a roller coaster ride. I’ll feel a lot better, then this wave of symptoms will hit again and it’s pretty sudden.”
Health officials have said the majority of people who contract COVID-19 will experience symptoms similar to a bad flu. Some will have very mild symptoms or none at all. The elderly or those with underlying health conditions are at the greatest risk of needing hospitalization.
Irvin stays very active with exploring the backcountry mountains in the Pacific Northwest. He hikes, snowboards and backpacks for most of the year.
“We’re pretty lucky to have good physical health on our side,” Irvin said. “I really think we have a good chance to fully recover from what happened, but at the same time it’s really heavy to think that other people don’t have that.”
They’ve been focused on eating healthy, taking vitamins and resting, he said.
“We’ve been trying to throw everything we can at this and it hasn’t been moving super fast,” he said. “I feel like I’m a pretty healthy person and I’m not used to be sick for such long periods of time. It packs a punch.”
Irvin and his girlfriend are unsure exactly where they contracted the virus. He had traveled to Canada and Holden Village the week before and she had just returned from Vail, Colorado.
“Following the exact same time frame, we really do feel like it probably happened once we were back together somewhere locally,” he said. “But it’s pretty impossible to know for sure, unless you have a connection to someone who tested positive. We can kind of only speculate.”
The pair don’t know of anyone else they’ve been in contact with who’s tested positively for COVID-19, Irvin said.
The national shortage of testing supplies and long turnaround times have greatly limited the number of people in North Central Washington who can be tested.
Irwin was tested March 14, the first day that Confluence Health, which operates Central Washington Hospital, lowered its symptom threshold to allow people under the age of 65 and who didn’t have severe underlying health issues to be tested. Its drive-thru testing site was also opened that day.
The organization reversed that decision, and closed the drive-thru, on Wednesday after finding out its testing lab wouldn’t be able to supply enough testing materials to keep up with demand, Chief Medical Officer-elect Jason Lake said Wednesday.
WENATCHEE — Confluence Health will stop operating its testing drive-thru and only test high-risk groups for COVID-19 as it grapples with a lack of testing supplies and longer-than-expected turnaround times.
Irvin found out about the testing sites from a friend that morning. He feels fortunate that he was able to get tested during that window, he said.
“I know those testing procedures are way different now so I was just lucky my friend had reached out and told me that they were starting to do that,” he said.
Confluence Health said on Wednesday that a 29-year-old Leavenworth man and a 56-year-old Chelan man had tested positively for the virus, but didn’t name either of them.
Irvin has posted about his experience on social media and wrote about it on the website of Back Country Magazine. He agreed to share his story with The Wenatchee World so people could better understand the illness on an individual level.
Irvin has seen people in Leavenworth take preventative measures like staying home more seriously since finding out he’s tested positively, he said.
“Leavenworth is a really great community and I think it really started resonating with people, especially us younger folks in town,” he said. “I think it kind of took that to make the conversation a little more serious.”
Since developing symptoms, Irvin has stayed at home and has limited his contact with people, he said.
“We’re not planning on going anywhere soon,” he said. “Even after we start to feel better, I think there will be some time before we start to feel like ourselves again, based on how strong it’s been.”
Friends and family have been supportive, including offering to drop off groceries, he said.
But the mental toll of facing COVID-19 has led to moments of strong anxiety, Irvin said.
“I really didn’t think about how much our lives could change in the course of a week. And I mean all of ours, the whole narrative has changed so much over the course of seven days,” he said. “… We just need to be looking out for each other and paying attention to what it will look like on the other side.”