WA Governor Jay Inslee instituted a “contact tracing” program on May 12. He is using the Washington National Guard (headed by a Democrat legislator, by the way), Department of Licensing, and state and local health officials. According to the program, anyone has the right to refuse to participate, but the officials are hoping everyone will cooperate. That truly depends on how heavy-handed this becomes. Officials plan to replace the Washington National Guard with other volunteers as the program progresses. They also claim all of the tracing is “private” and will be used only by the Department of Health.
The plan is to “box in the virus,” first by ramping up the testing. Then volunteers (which now includes Eastern Washington University students, and others across the state) will contact those with positive results and find out from them who they’ve been in close proximity to over the last weeks. Close contact is defined as anyone who has been within 6 feet of someone who is sick for 10 minutes. That person – and the households – will then be asked to self-quarantine for 14 days. Is that enforceable?
“People should confine at home immediately upon first symptoms. People testing positive need to confine at home until at least 10 days have passed since first symptoms and at least 72 hours have passed without a fever (without use of fever-reducing medication) and they see improvement in cough or shortness of breath.” Governor Jay Inslee
Most of the outbreaks in Washington have occurred in people who are confined inside a building. Veteran’s homes, nursing homes, family clusters have been the main source of COVID-19.
“We have had a couple of workplace clusters, but for the most part it’s been long-term care and family clusters that we’ve seen.” Anna Halloran, an epidemiologist with the Spokane Regional Health District (KREM)
How heavy-handed will this become if some do not wish to participate in the contact tracing program? Here’s a harbinger of what is to come for the State of Washington:
Phase 2 opening:
If a restaurant wants to open for dine-in service, it must “create a daily log of customers and maintain that daily log for 30 days, including telephone/email contact information, and time in.” (Fox) Here are the strict guidelines in the order by Governor Jay Inslee:
1. Hand sanitizer should be available at entry for all staff and patrons (assuming supply availability).
2. No bar seating is permitted during Phase 2. If an establishment has bar seating it must be closed off to prohibit use.
3. If the establishment does not offer table service, they must have protocols in place to ensure adequate social distancing at food and drink pick-up stations, and seating within their dining area.
4. All parties and tables must be 5 guests or less.
5. Guest occupancy must be 50% of maximum building occupancy or lower as determined by the fire code. Outdoor seating is permitted but must also be at 50% capacity. Outdoor seating does not count toward the building occupancy limit. Outdoor seating must follow all other requirements in this document.
6. Tables must be placed far enough apart when measured from occupied chair to occupied chair, to ensure dine-in guests seated at a table are a minimum of 6 feet away from guests at adjacent table, or there must be a physical barrier or wall separating booths or tables.
7. It is strongly suggested customers wear a cloth face covering anytime they are not seated at the table (while being seated or leaving, or while going to the restroom).
8. Buffets and salad bars are not permitted at this time but may be addressed through subsequent interpretive guidance.
9. If the establishment offers table service, create a daily log of all customers and maintain that daily log for 30 days, including telephone/email contact information, and time in. This will facilitate any contact tracing that might need to occur.
10. Single use menus are required for in-person dining.
11. Any condiments typically left on the table (ketchup, soy sauce, etc.) must be single-use or sanitized after each use.
12. Restaurants must have implemented a plan to ensure proper physical distancing in lobby/waiting areas/payment counters.
13. Minimize the number of staff serving any given table. It is strongly recommended that one staff person take a table’s order, bring all of their beverages/food/utensils, take their payment, etc.
If you are a restaurant owner, your future is in jeopardy if you have to comply with these orders. Several restaurants in the Eastern half of the state have already closed permanently, and they haven’t even begun the “phase 2” opening.
Requiring restaurants to keep logs of those who come to their establishments is a huge violation of privacy, not to mention extremely difficult for restaurants to comply. What will Governor Jay Inslee come up with next in the rules for COVID-19? His contact tracing could easily devolve into something heavy-handed, just based on the required keeping of logs for restaurant goers. If the “voluntary” part disappears…
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