Here’s what Washington’s new 'stay-at-home' order means for you

Updates on construction, outdoor recreation, as Gov. Jay Inslee adjusts statewide rules around social distancing.

A man wearing a mask walks across Sixth Avenue near Amazon headquarters in Seattle's South Lake Union neighborhood, March 31, 2020. (Matt M. McKnight/Crosscut)

Gov. Jay Inslee is now ordering Washingtonians to stay at home unless they are doing something necessary, like buying groceries, going to the doctor or working at an essential business, such as the power company.

All gatherings of people for social, spiritual and recreation activities will be banned. This applies to public and private gatherings — everything from weddings to funerals. The governor has extended his stay-at-home order through May 4.

You can still go to the grocery store and take a walk in your neighborhood. What else do you want to know?

What will remain open?

Grocery stores, banks, gas stations, pharmacies, takeout restaurants and food banks are likely to remain open. When the governor ordered bars and restaurants to close on March 16, but allowed takeout from the restaurants, some decided to close altogether. For now, restaurants will still be able to sell to-go orders.

Read about farmer's markets: Reopening but not the same.

How is this different from the shelter-in-place orders in other states?

The only real difference appears to be the name of the order. Other states are also allowing people to leave their homes for trips to the grocery store or pharmacy and for some essential work to continue. The governor’s office even mentioned California’s order in its explanation of the new Washington rule. The main message the governor is trying to send is that people will need to stay home unless absolutely necessary. Businesses that want to check how the order will apply to them can check here.

What about outdoor recreation? Here's what officials are saying about hiking, park visitations and more. 

Can child care workers continue working?

Added March 26 at 1 p.m.

The answer to this question is: it depends. The governor's order is clear about workers at public and private child care centers: they're essential and can keep working. The same is true for teachers and other employees at licensed pre-K schools, K-12 schools, colleges and universities so they can keep offering distance learning or school lunches. Nannies and babysitters appear to be governed by a different metric. The Washington state government said people working in child care in other settings, such as your home, are also considered essential if they are caring for children of essential workers as defined by the state or taking care of uniquely vulnerable children.

Read more about childcare: Emergency child care for essential workers.

Can I travel between my homes to visit grandma or to visit my child?

Added March 26 at 1 p.m.

Crosscut has received many questions on this theme. In general the answer is the same for all of them: You are not prohibited from getting in your car and going somewhere you need to be. If you need to take care of a parent or bring grandma groceries or pick up your child at college or the airport, you are allowed to do so.

The governor wants people to stay at home, as much as possible, and not to gather in groups for social or other reasons. He calls this stay-at-home order "our main weapon" to stop the spread of the coronavirus because a vaccine may be a year away.

Read more about getting around: Apocalypse Now What? License to Drive

Read about getting out on your motorcycle: Rolling with Caution

What if your family lives across the border: Separated Families between Washington and Canada.

How will the stay-at-home order affect my parenting agreement with my ex?

Added March 25 at 4:45 p.m.

Mike Faulk, a spokesperson for Inslee, said the governor's order should not impact parenting plans at all. Parents should continue to drop off and pick up their children as usual. "People are allowed to leave their homes but are encouraged to limit travel," he said. Any disputes between parents over legally binding parenting agreements should be handled in the usual way, in accordance with existing state laws.

Read more about custody plans in Washington: Coronavirus disrupts custody plans.

I just found a new home. Will coronavirus halt my move? 

Added March 25 at 4:45 p.m.

Most of the elements of moving will not be affected by the governor's order. Transportation of people and goods is considered essential. If you're signing a lease or mortgage documents, you should be able to do so electronically and remotely. But there are other elements of moving that could prove difficult. For example, if you were planning on moving into a house that is already full of people, could that mean you would become part of a large social gathering? If so, then you might have a problem you need to discuss with your landlord, who should be OK completing most of the work from home. If your landlord needs to take care of some work on your new place before you move it, that may or may not prove difficult. And if you were hoping to invite a group of friends to help you haul boxes and eat pizza, then you might be out of luck during the current crisis.

Read more about moving during a pandemic: Navigating moving while "staying home"

Will I still be able to take my pet to the vet?

Added March 24 at 4:30 p.m.

Veterinary services are considered essential, but Candace Joy, CEO of the Washington State Veterinary Medical Association, said the same common sense considerations should apply to pet care as human medical care. Put off routine checkups and elective surgery. Call first to make sure the vet can see your pet. If the clinic is closed, you'll be referred to another clinic. If you're not sure what's up with Spot, definitely call for a phone consultation to see what the doctor recommends. Joy said you should expect the vet to take some special precautions to limit human contact. Don't be surprised if they ask you to put your pet carrier by the door and go sit in your car and talk on the phone while your pet is examined.

What about dog parks, groomers, dog walkers?

Updated March 26 at 1 p.m.

Some dog parks may remain open with reminders to humans to practice social distancing, but on Wednesday afternoon King County announced it was closing all its parks, including the ones beloved by dogs, and locking the gates and restrooms. On its website, King County Parks said it doesn't have the resources to actively enforce park closures and social distancing guidelines and is relying on the public to follow the rules. Pet groomers are not on the list of essential services. And neither are dog walkers.

If bookstores and other retail are considered nonessential, can we continue to process online orders? 

Added March 24 at 4:30 p.m.

The governor said nonessential work that can be done remotely can continue. That would seem to apply to bookstores, if you can process orders, such as gift cards from home. If your business is already in your home or in your garage, carry on. And work that must be done to make sure your employees are paid and their health insurance continues seems to be an exception to the nonessential work ban. The explanation from the governor's office also indicates deliveries and shipping are essential businesses.

What if my car breaks down or I need to buy gas?

Added March 24 at 4:30 p.m.

Auto supplies and repairs are considered essential, as are gas stations. Some other businesses you may not realize will likely be open, including hardware stores, garden stores and nurseries, office supply stores that support working from home and home appliance retail stores. And although zoos are closed, the people who feed the animals will still need to work.

Is construction work essential?

Updated April 27 at 5 p.m.

The governor has updated his stay-at-home order to allow some construction work to resume, as long as some new safety requirements are followed. Existing projects are allowed to be restarted with COVID-19 safety plans for work that can be performed while meeting social distancing requirements. The new safety plans must be posted at job sites and must explain how potential exposure to the coronavirus will be avoided.

Every site will need a COVID-19 supervisor, and weekly training of workers will be required. The employer is required to provide necessary protective equipment and sanitation on site.

The governor said he plans to convene other industry work groups to develop plans for eventually reopening other businesses.

What about plumbers, electricians and emergency repairs?

Added March 24 at 2:30 p.m.

Workers such as plumbers, electricians, exterminators and other service providers who provide services needed to maintain the safety, sanitation and operation of residences are considered essential under the order.

What about landscaping?

Updated March 25 at 11:48 a.m.

Landscaping does not appear in the document covering essential work. The Washington Association of Landscape Professionals is advocating to have its industry added to the list of exceptions to the “stay home” order, arguing that their work assists in the protection of public health and safety. To petition to have your business or industry added to the list, you can email

Will I still be able to buy or sell cannabis? 

Added March 24 at 2:30 p.m.

Yes, workers supporting cannabis sales and the retail stores themselves are considered as essential as grocery stores for the purposes of this order.

READ MORE ABOUT CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE: Seattleites ignore social distancing

What about garbage pickup?

Added March 24 at 2:30 p.m.

All utilities, from garbage to electricity to internet, are considered essential and will continue. Not only will garbage trucks continue to run, but the people who support the garbage pickup service and other utilities are also considered essential, from people maintaining traffic signals to those fixing power lines and the plumbers, electricians and construction workers who support them.

What if my employer insists I go to work?

Updated March 26 at 1 p.m.

The government has identified certain essential jobs and industries where people will still be allowed to go to work, based on the federal government’s and California’s definition of Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers. In addition to health and medical fields, those include utility workers, internet service providers, defense industry workers, farmworkers, food manufacturers and other related industries. So if you work in a grocery store or deliver food to those stores, you may be told to keep going to work. The state has compiled some good information about workplace safety in the time of coronavirus.

The Washington state Department of Labor & Industries answers a lot of related questions on its website.

What if my health is fragile or I am older? Do I still have to work?

Updated April 3 at 2:30 p.m.

Crosscut is not able to give you legal advice, so we aren't going to attempt to answer questions like this. But we know a lot of people are feeling very uncomfortable about going to work right now. A better way to get advice on this subject would be to call your union, if you're represented, or talk to your human resources department to discuss your options, or ask an attorney.

How will I pay my rent and other bills?

Updated April 3 at 2:30 p.m.

The Washington state Employment Security Department has already announced relaxed rules for seeking unemployment payments. Those emergency rules make allowances for temporary layoffs and for some workers who do not have paid sick leave. If you believe you have contracted coronavirus on the job, you may qualify for worker’s compensation. You can also apply for the state paid family leave program, which may help you financially if you are caring for a relative who is sick with COVID-19. The governor has put a statewide moratorium on evictions of residential tenants.

Help for undocumented workers: Cities, nonprofits help with rent and small business loans.

Do I have to stay inside all the time?

Updated April 27 at 5 p.m.

You can take a walk in your neighborhood, but you are not allowed to congregate at your local park or playground. The order also won't prohibit people from driving to another park and taking a walk. "The governor wants people to be able to go outside, garden, walk the dog, etc., as long as they are doing social distancing," said Tara Lee, a spokesperson for Inslee. Restaurants have already closed their dining rooms. Health clubs and community centers have been closed since March 16.

The governor announced he would reopen some outdoor recreation on May 5, as long as social distancing is employed and people look out for the safety of other participants, as well as people who work in outdoor recreation. You will be able to fish, hunt and golf, visit state parks for day use and enjoy public lands managed by the Department of Natural Resources and at state Department of Fish and Wildlife areas.

Public gatherings, events, team sports and camping are still not allowed.

“If we see a sharp uptake in the number of people who are getting sick or are not following appropriate steps, then we won’t hesitate to scale this back again,” Inslee said. “This is not a return to normal. This is only a beginning phase of relaxing outdoor recreation restrictions.”

The governor added that local agencies, like the city of Seattle, will be making their own decisions about city parks, as will the federal government concerning national parks.

For more details about outdoor recreation and the stay-at-home order, read "Nature's not closed."

What if I have a doctor or dentist or chiropractor appointment?

Many medical and dental offices have already closed for all appointments except for emergencies. The public is being asked to stay home unless they need to pick up something essential like food or medicine and to refrain from going to the doctor or the hospital if it isn’t an emergency.

Will I still get deliveries from the post office, Amazon, etc.?

Yes, postal and shipping, and workers who drive those trucks and fill those boxes, are considered essential by the governor's order. So are air transportation employees and the people who repair and maintain vehicles that operate on our roads, on the railway and in the air and ferry cargo and passengers.

Are there consequences for not following the order?

Failure to comply with any of the governor’s coronavirus orders would be considered a gross misdemeanor, according to Mike Faulk, a spokesperson for Inslee. Those violations can be reported, investigated and referred to the prosecutor’s office and then punishable by a fine and/or jail time.

Who do I complain to if my neighbor or a local business is not following the rules?

Updated April 3 at 2:30 p.m.

Not surprisingly, this has been one of the most popular questions we have been asked. Your local police have told the media they are getting a lot of complaints through their emergency phone lines. You should probably stop calling 911 about teen parties at the park. But you can report these gatherings through the nonemergency number. And if you live in Bellevue (and perhaps a few other places by now), you can use the city app to report incidents to the police. And the Bellevue Police has even set up a fun little complaint map. You can file business complaints through the governor's office.

More on reporting your neighbors: Social distance violators.


Crosscut reporter Emily McCarty contributed to this story from Yakima.


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