Tag Archives: #COVID-19

“Stay Home, Stay Healthy” Order Issued to Combat COVID-19 in Washington State

On March 23, 2020, Governor Jay Inslee issued a “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” Order, a proclamation that functions as part of the State of Washington’s efforts to prevent the further spread of Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) within the state. The Order will last for two weeks, beginning March 25, 2020 and lasting until April 8, 2020 (although it may be extended, depending on transmission rates). Under the terms of this proclamation, the following is required:

  • Every Washington resident will be required to stay home, unless they need to pursue an essential activity (more information on exceptions and essential services is detailed below).
  • All gatherings apart from “essential activities” are temporarily banned. This includes most social, spiritual, and other community gatherings.
  • All non-essential businesses are to be temporarily closed.

The Stay Home, Stay Healthy Order builds on previous state orders that have been issued to combat the spread of COVID-19. Although it effectively closes most businesses and events, the Order and related advisory documents do provide exceptions and additional guidance that should be reviewed carefully by business owners. Below, we have compiled some of the most important considerations to take into account, when determining a plan of action.

Does your business qualify as “essential”?

If it’s not clear whether your business qualifies as an “essential business”, please contact the state or your attorney right away; they can provide expert guidance in this determination. Furthermore, even if your business is not currently considered “essential”, businesses who offer otherwise vital services to the community can submit a request for special designation as an “essential business.”

What should you know if your business is covered by the “essential business” exceptions?

If your business falls into one of the “essential business” categories, consider contacting your attorney for guidance on how best to continue operating under these conditions, and to comply with ongoing regulations for businesses that continue to operate. Legal counsel can provide specific recommendations, including preparation of a letter for your employees to use while they are outside of their home or business (traveling by car, bus, bike, on foot, etc.) that verifies their purpose for being outside or working during this time. We can also help draft internal communications for distribution to your employees, relating to continued operations under this order.

What should you know if your business is considered “non-essential”?

Legal counsel can also provide specific recommendations for non-essential businesses, including continuing limited operations, implementing remote work policies, temporary closures, and walking employees through any temporary business changes.

Contact Possinger Law Group

For purposes of this current order, Possinger Law Group is considered an “essential business” and all of our staff continue to work remotely. Our firm is here and ready to help you navigate these uncharted waters and this unprecedented business environment. Contact your Possinger Law Group attorney directly, or call us at 206-512-8030 for assistance.

Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic for Washington Businesses

At the time of this article’s release, it is clear that the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is having and will continue to have a significant impact on the economy, effecting businesses of all kinds – particularly small businesses. To survive, there is an important sentiment to remember: Nobody ever regrets making fast and decisive adjustments to changing circumstances.

The current pandemic presents both operational and legal issues for small- to medium-sized businesses; which are the primary clients of Possinger Law Group. Here in Western Washington, which has been a particularly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses have found themselves needing to respond quickly to emergency regulations and public health orders. This rush to adapt has directly impacted business operations, and the widespread decrease in economic activity has further changed the way that businesses must operate to sustain themselves.

Over the past week, questions that our firm has received have fallen into three basic categories:

  • Compliance with Public Health Orders and Emergency Regulations,
  • Handling Employees, Contractors, and Keeping the Business Operating, and
  • Impacts on Existing Contracts and Ongoing Business Obligations.

The following is a quick outline of the issues that businesses should be reviewing, assessing, and acting upon to protect critical relationships (i.e. employees, customers, suppliers, and the community at large) and remain successful during these unprecedented times. Every business is unique in its needs and resources, but principles listed in this article will be helpful for all business entities. All of these items address key issues in: (1) Safeguarding the Upstream (Supply Chain) of the business, (2) Assisting the Downstream (Customers/Demand), and (3) Protecting the Organization (Employees, Contractors, and Operations). An honest assessment of the business, its operations, its environment, and present threats requires careful thought and strong communication. The themes that we outline below will give businesses a strong starting point to effectively respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Stay Informed.

More than ever, it is crucial that business owners and managers remain well-informed as the situation rapidly develops and changes. It should be expected that circumstances will change daily; and though emergency declarations and public health orders have been put into place until March 31, 2020, businesses should anticipate that these will change and possibly be extended until the emergency situation ends. 

  • Remain Compliant with Emergency Regulations and Public Health Orders.

As of March 16th, 2020, the State of Washington has imposed significant restrictions on businesses of various kinds, including the closing of restaurants, bars, and other businesses focused on recreational activities. Regulations are coming out on federal, state, and local levels. Businesses should visit the Seattle/King County Public Health’s COVID-19 Page often to keep current on the status of these regulations.

In addition to providing a possible safe-harbor defense to certain business decisions (i.e. reliance on WHO, CDC, and DOH guidance), avoiding penalties for violation of these regulations is of utmost importance, as violations of emergency proclamations and public health orders are gross misdemeanors.

  • Be Prepared to Improvise and Adapt to the Environment.

Businesses that want survive (and thrive) in this environment need to approach the ongoing situation with flexibility and a willingness to improvise and adapt. It is essential that businesses not only seek approaches that avoid threats and risks, but also find opportunities to serve customers and maintain the continuity of operations and services.

  • Prioritize Workplace Concerns and Employee Safety.

Human resources, including employee safety, is an essential part of every business. When it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, employee safety and compliance with employment laws are an essential element of a business’ response.

One of the first steps of a comprehensive response is figuring out if you are dealing with an independent contractor or an employee. If you are dealing with a contractor, then your actions are likely going to be informed by the terms of your agreement with that individual or other business. When dealing with employees, other issues are implicated, which are detailed below.

As a matter of Federal Law, Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (“OSHA”) imposes a duty on businesses to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm. Washington’s corresponding statute (“WISHA”), along with other statutory and common laws, imposes duties on businesses regarding the spread of infectious diseases. It has been recommended that businesses adopt policies permitting ill employees to work from home, or send employees home if they disclose that they are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19. There are also ADA and other privacy obligations that come into play here, where legal counsel is essential. Businesses should consider that, before disciplining or terminating an employee who misses work out of fear of contracting the virus, they should consult legal counsel. Some courts have found that a public policy exception to at-will employment provides a cause of action to employees terminated for missing work under conditions that pose a risk of communicable infection. It is not clear that this is the case in Washington at this time, but because of the extraordinary nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses should take care with regard to employment issues. Furthermore, Washington businesses should ensure their compliance with applicable state and local sick leave laws, and be prepared to notify eligible employees of their rights under the Family Medical Leave Act and Washington’s Paid Family and Medical Leave laws.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers are required to monitor the health of their employees daily (for COVID-19 symptoms), and both CDC and DOH guidance encourages work-from-home policies to promote the “social distancing” required to combat the virus and its spread.

  • Communicate with Critical Suppliers.

Businesses should assess the potential impact of any delays or disruptions to delivery of critical supplies, materials, and parts. Businesses should contact their suppliers to determine what level of inventories they are carrying and what actions they are taking to prevent disruption to routine deliveries. This is especially true for businesses with supply needs in industries that have been hardest hit by the pandemic, such as retail, food, and transportation. Furthermore, businesses should seriously consider redeploying resources in order to build additional banks of parts and/or onboard alternative suppliers to mitigate the impact caused by delays in delivery. This is a crucial element of claiming force majeure defense (as described further below). If there are going to be payment issues with regard to suppliers, including landlords, utilities, and fees, it is essential that these issues are communicated clearly and quickly.

  • Review Contracts for what “Force Majeure” Rights and Requirements May Apply.

The term “Force Majeure” refers to a legal doctrine where a party may be relieved from liability for non-performance if circumstances beyond the party’s control prevent the party from fulfilling its obligations under an agreement. Although most force majeure provisions are unlikely to list disease, epidemics, or quarantine, many include general provisions covering such things as natural disasters, “Acts of God”, “Acts of Government”, or “other circumstances beyond the parties’ control.” The COVID-19 pandemic presents a somewhat-unique situation, in that it includes both a naturally occurring component (the coronavirus itself) and a government action component (including the quarantines and other measures put in place in response to the pandemic). Parties should carefully review the force majeure provisions in their agreements to determine whether they apply. Application of the doctrine has a number of elements that must be shown, including: (1) the existence, duration, and impact of the force majeure event, (2) the causal connection between the event and the nonperformance of the agreement, and (3) attempts to mitigate the damages caused by the force majeure event.

  • Review Contracts to Determine what “Material Adverse Change” (“MAC”) Rights and Requirements May Apply.

Typically, a Material Adverse Change (“MAC”) clause is a way in which both sides of a transaction can allocate risk between signing and closing, and can be utilized in certain areas of an agreement (e.g., in the representations and warranties section specifying the lack of an MAC occurring since a particular date). MAC clauses usually define a MAC as “any event, circumstance, development, condition, or change that, either individually or in the aggregate, has had or could reasonably be expected to have a material adverse effect on the business, financial condition, results of operations, or other aspects of the business of the target and its subsidiaries, taken as a whole.” Whether a company can rely on the MAC clause in any specific contract will be contingent upon: (1) how the provision is written, (2) how the provisions will be interpreted under the agreement’s governing law, and (3) the actual impact on the business at issue. Given that the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic remains unclear at this time, it is likely still too early to assess whether a MAC provision will have been triggered. Therefore, businesses should monitor and evaluate the continuing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on their operations, in regards to MAC clauses in their active contracts.

  • Continually Monitor Customer Demands.

Businesses should monitor and communicate with their customers, to ensure continued compliance with their contractual obligations, including timely payment for materials and services supplied to the customer. In anticipation of disruptions, businesses should formulate a plan for managing communications with customers and other counterparties to agreements, bearing in mind any strategic considerations that may be important to when determining whether to take certain actions.

For customers with a greater risk of nonpayment, businesses should communicate with the customer to evaluate their contractual payment terms. As a general matter, however, companies should assess whether the circumstances and applicable law permit any party to assert any basis for avoiding or pausing performance under their agreements, while also evaluating the potential consequences of a breach or default of the agreement.

Again, communication with customers is a critical element of business continuity, and is especially important difficult economic times.

  • Review Resource Allocations.

Technology manufacturers in particular should review their allocation requirements and obligations to their various and multiple competing customers for any potentially-scarce materials. This will likely become more important as manufacturing operations eventually return to their normal rate. Depending on the nature of the business, this may apply to service providers as well.

  • Reporting Obligations.

In the case of publicly-traded businesses, reviewing and making accurate disclosures on business operations is often necessary. This is especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic, as operations and services continue to be impacted heavily. Businesses of every size who are parties to credit agreements and other financing arrangements should also review existing MAC clauses and assess potential impacts on the borrower’s financial covenant compliance, in order to determine whether any proactive conversations with lenders may be warranted.

  • Review Insurance Policies.

Businesses should review their insurance policies to determine possible coverage in the event of business disruption, and comply with all applicable notice requirements. Businesses may also want to review the possibility of obtaining business interruption insurance. Either way, businesses should evaluate their coverage to determine whether they may be covered for losses due to business interruptions attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many insurers have precluded viral outbreaks from being covered within in their standard business interruption policies, but certain contracts may include related coverage. It is crucial, therefore, for businesses to evaluate the terms of their specific policies in order to determine whether interruptions from COVID-19 could be covered. During the course of this evaluation, businesses should also determine what their policies’ notice requirements are, and ensure that they will continue to comply with those provisions, in the event that coverage is sought.

  • Assess Business Travel Protocol.

Regarding travel guidelines, businesses should implement internal guidelines around travel to and from nations with Level 3 travel health notices (e.g. China, Iran, Italy and South Korea). This is a rapidly-developing issue, with travel bans to/from Europe having been recently implemented. As of March 16th, 2020, Canada and several other countries are also planning to close their borders entirely. Staying informed on these current or pending travel bans is important for all businesses, especially for those whose operations rely on international travel of any kind.

Businesses should postpone nonessential business travel to high-risk areas and evaluate whether there is a need for other international travel. This should also apply to domestic travel decisions, especially as the public continues to better understand community spread in different parts of the United States. Businesses should respect any employee’s unwillingness to travel (rather than demanding they do so), in order to minimize the risk of future liability. If employees have traveled to China, Iran, Italy, or South Korea (or any other countries later added to the list of nations with Level 3 travel health notices), companies should require that they work from home for a period of 14 days from the day they left the nation, as per CDC guidelines.

  • Develop and Maintain Cybersecurity Practices.

As governments continue to require or recommend office and school closures to prevent or slow the spread of COVID-19, many businesses may decide to implement or expand employee work-from-home programs. These programs allow for business continuity, but they also pose increased cybersecurity risks by creating additional avenues for unauthorized access to company systems and information. As a result, businesses should review their current cybersecurity controls and determine whether they must be enhanced prior to initiating or significantly expanding remote working technology. As a practical example, best practices require implementation of two-factor authentication for accessing business networks and webmail, as well as encryption on laptops and mobile devices. Businesses should ensure adequate physical security and access controls for information technology assets during preparations for extended office closures.

Businesses should also warn their employees that malicious actors are likely to increase the use of targeted phishing attacks. These might include emails that claim to include medical updates or appear to include “important notices” for those working remotely. These are risks for large and small enterprises, alike.

In addition, business policies that govern the acceptable use of business systems and devices, as well as the transfer and storage of business information, are essential. Employees working remotely are more likely to forward business information to personal email accounts, or to store information on unprotected laptops or other mobile devices, all of which creates significant additional risks. It is for this reason that training or reminders about such business policies is critical to maintaining cybersecurity in remote work environments.

Finally, businesses should research and remain compliant with applicable privacy laws, when collecting information about employees or clients that they might not have previously collected, such as health information and travel itineraries.

  • Maintain Awareness of Government Relief Programs for Businesses and Employees.

As a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, all levels of government have begun to provide resources for businesses and residents. These include resources for unemployment programs, Short-Term and Emergency Loans, and other resources. These are rapidly changing, so business owners and managers should continue to monitor the availability and applicability of these programs for their businesses. Some that are currently-available include:

Small businesses in Washington find themselves in a rapidly changing and dynamic situation, which will require ongoing vigilance and action to navigate.  The preceding checklist of items should provide a framework for navigating businesses through this challenging time.

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DISCLAIMER: This blog post, as well as any data and information provided are for informational purposes only. It is not legal advice nor should it be relied on as legal advice. To the extent that this document may contain suggested provisions, they will require modification to suit a particular transaction, jurisdiction, or situation. The law is a rapidly changing subject, no representation is made that everything posted on this site will be accurate, up to date, or a complete analysis of legal issues. Please consult with an attorney with the appropriate level of experience if you have any questions. Review or use of the document and any discussions does not create an attorney-client relationship with the author or Possinger Law Group, PLLC. No attorney-client or confidential relationship is or should be believed to be formed by the use of this site. The opinions expressed here represent those of Jeffrey Possinger and not those of Possinger Law Group, PLLC or its clients.

Interim Advice to Washington Business Owners in the face of the COVID-19 Pandemic

In just a short period, Washington State has become an epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. Responding rapidly to this emerging health crisis, the Federal government, the State of Washington, and various local authorities have taken action to combat the spread of the disease. These actions have direct impacted the community as a whole, but businesses have been particularly affected by new closures, supply-chain deficiencies, and in-office protocols.

The general advice below is directed to small- and medium-sized business owners, which make up a large part of Possinger Law Group’s clientele. Most importantly, the following is only interim advice, and it is general in nature. In many ways, all of us find ourselves in unfamiliar territory, and situation is likely to change day-to-day, if not hour by hour. If you have specific questions about navigating the rapidly-evolving pandemic, we invite you to contact Possinger Law Group directly.

So, how should a business owner respond to what feels like a complete deluge of news and information? And even more importantly, what specifically should they be doing? The following should be seen as a general framework for planning, preparing, and responding to the issues created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Legal Compliance

The first issue to address is legal compliance and risk mitigation, in regards to employment law. Employers should assume that all existing laws and regulations remain in place, and pay careful attention to additional requirements that are being added to respond to the emergency. 

Emergency Regulations and Public Health Orders

Since February 29, 2020, all counties in the State of Washington have been under a State of Emergency, set out in Proclamation 05-20. On March 10, 2020, Proclamation 06-20 was issued (Regulating Nursing Homes and Assisted Living Facilities), and on March 11, 2020, Proclamation 07-20 was issued for King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties for gatherings of 250 people or more (along with additional Public Health Orders) that added additional requirements for social, spiritual, and recreational gatherings involving fewer than 250 people. The Proclamation and Public Health Orders were effective immediately and continue to be in place until March 31, 2020 (unless extended).

In addition, King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties have ordered the prohibition of gatherings involving fewer than 250 people, unless measures are taken by event organizers to minimize risk. Practically, this is likely to apply to most businesses.

Under the King County’s Public Health Order, an “event” is defined as a public gathering for business, social, or recreational activities including, but not limited to: community, civic, public, leisure, or sporting events; parades; concerts; festivals; conventions; fundraisers; and similar activities, unless event organizers take steps to minimize risk. Specifically, organizers of events of fewer than 250 people must ensure that:

  • Older adults and individuals with underlying medical conditions who are at increased risk of COVID-19 are encouraged not to attend (including employees);
  • Social distancing recommendations are met (i.e., limit contact of people within 6 feet from each other for 10 minutes or longer);
  • Employees are screened for symptoms of COVID-19 each day, and asked to leave if symptomatic;
  • Proper hand hygiene and sanitation are readily available to all attendees and employees; and
  • Environmental cleaning guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are followed (e.g., clean and disinfect high touch surfaces daily or more frequently).

At this time, retail businesses and service operators such as grocery stores, drug stores, movie theaters, restaurants, and other similar establishments may continue to provide services as long as they take steps to minimize the spread of disease. Additional guidance will be issued and posted on www.kingcounty.gov/COVID.

Although the Counties have emphasized that enforcement of these regulations will be focused on education and guidance, violation of these emergency regulations and orders are currently classified as a gross misdemeanor.

Employment Law Implications

As noted above, employers must screen employees for symptoms of COVID-19 each day, excluding them from in-person contact if they are symptomatic. Practically, this means that employees must be sent home if they show signs or symptoms of illness. This screening is required to be performed in a consistent manner, to avoid violations under the ADA and other anti-discrimination laws and regulations.

Regardless of symptoms, employees with confirmed or suspected exposure to COVID-19 should notify their supervisor and refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure. In this situation, FMLA and other legal contracts could apply.

If an employee is confirmed to have contracted COVID-19, employers are required to inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19. In doing this, it is imperative that the employer maintain confidentiality of the COVID-positive individual, as it is required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Employees who suspect that they may have been exposed to COVID-19 should refer to the CDC guidance on how to conduct a risk assessment.

Additional Resources and Guidance:

Protecting Employees, Customers, and Community

There are a number of practical steps that business owners can take not only to comply with current regulations and guidelines, but also to minimize and mitigate risk to employees, customers, and the community at large.

The CDC recommends that employers emphasize respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene by employing the following procedures:

  • Place posters that encourage staying home when sickcough and sneeze etiquette, and hand hygiene at the entrance to your workplace and in other workplace areas where they are likely to be seen.
  • Provide tissues and no-touch disposal receptacles for use by employees.
  • Instruct employees to clean their hands often with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60-95% alcohol, or wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Advise employees to avoid touching their eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Provide adequate access to soap and water, as well as alcohol-based hand rubs in the workplace. Ensure that these supplies are well-maintained and continuously-stocked. Place hand rubs in multiple locations or in conference rooms to further encourage hand hygiene.
  • Visit the coughing and sneezing etiquette and clean hands webpage for more information and suggestions.

Business owners should also perform routine environmental cleaning, which involves the following procedures:

  • Routinely clean all frequently-touched surfaces in the workplace (such as workstations, countertops, and doorknobs). Use standard cleaning agents for these surfaces and follow the directions on the label, to ensure that the environment is cleaned effectively.
  • No additional disinfection beyond routine cleaning is recommended at this time.
  • Provide disposable wipes so that commonly-used surfaces can be wiped down by employees before each use.

Additional guidance can be found here:

Business Continuity and Recovery

Employers should be ready to implement strategies to protect their workforce from COVID-19, while also ensuring continuity of business operations. In the case of a COVID-19 outbreak, all sick employees should stay home and away from the workplace, respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene should be encouraged, and routine cleaning of common surfaces should be performed often and routinely.

Business owners need to consider how best to decrease the spread of acute respiratory illness and lower the impact of COVID-19 and other diseases within the workplace. They should identify and communicate their objectives, which may include one or more of the following: (a) reducing transmission among staff, (b) protecting people who are at higher risk for adverse health complications, (c) maintaining business operations, and (d) minimizing adverse effects on other entities in their supply chains. Some of the key considerations when planning a response are:

  • Identifying the disease’s severity (i.e., number of people who are sick, hospitalization and death rates) in the community where the business is located;
  • Understanding the impact of disease on employees, especially those who are vulnerable and may be at higher risk for COVID-19 adverse health complications;
  • Making preparations for possible increased numbers of employee absences due to illness in employees and their family members, as well as dismissals of early childhood programs and K-12 schools due to community spread;
  • Planning to monitor absenteeism in the workplace, and implementing plans to continue essential business functions while experiencing higher rates of absenteeism;
  • Cross-training personnel to perform essential functions so that the workplace is able continue operations even if key staff members are absent;
  • Assessing essential functions and the reliance that others and the community have on your services or products, being prepared to change business practices if needed in order to maintain critical operations (e.g., identify alternative suppliers, prioritize customers, or temporarily suspend some of your operations if needed);
  • In the case of employers with multiple business locations, providing local managers with the authority to take appropriate actions outlined in their business infectious disease outbreak response plan based on the condition in each locality;
  • Coordinating with state and local health officials, so that timely and accurate information can guide appropriate responses in each location where their operations reside.

Other Resources for Businesses and Employees Affected by COVID-19.

In response to the significant impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on businesses and the economy, the Federal and Washington State Governments have been introducing programs to assist businesses and employees. This includes financial assistance, export assistance, and employer and worker assistance (such as support with unemployment benefits, shared work, partial unemployment, and standby).

A Final Note (For Now)

Information about COVID-19 is constantly developing, so employers also should continue to refer to the CDCWHO, and OSHA websites for the latest on appropriate precautions, including changes to travel notices. In addition to these resources, the relevant county level Public Health Department websites may have additional information on local guidelines and requirements.

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DISCLAIMER: This blog post, as well as any data and information provided are for informational purposes only. It is not legal advice nor should it be relied on as legal advice. To the extent that this document may contain suggested provisions, they will require modification to suit a particular transaction, jurisdiction, or situation. The law is a rapidly changing subject, no representation is made that everything posted on this site will be accurate, up to date, or a complete analysis of legal issues. Please consult with an attorney with the appropriate level of experience if you have any questions. Review or use of the document and any discussions does not create an attorney-client relationship with the author or Possinger Law Group, PLLC. No attorney-client or confidential relationship is or should be believed to be formed by the use of this site. The opinions expressed here represent those of Jeffrey Possinger and not those of Possinger Law Group, PLLC or its clients.

Governor Inslee Issues COVID-19 Proclamation

King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties are under state-of-emergency restrictions until March 31, 2020.

In response to the outbreak of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), Washington State Governor Jay Inslee has issued a several Proclamations: 20-05 (02-29-2020) (Declaring a State of Emergency), and 20-06 (03-10-2020)(Limiting Activities in the operation of Nursing Homes and Assisted Living Facilities).

Today, the Governor issued Proclamation 20-07, which restricts gatherings related to social, spiritual, and recreational activities in King, Snohomish, and Pierce Counties until midnight of March 31, 2020.

Specifically, the Proclamation temporarily bans “gatherings of 250 or more for social, spiritual and recreational activities, including but not limited to, community, civic, public, leisure, faith-based, or sporting events; parades; concerts; festivals; conventions; fundraisers; and similar activities.”

The language of the Proclamation largely affects community and private gathering, as well as organized religious institutions (such as churches, synagogues, and mosques). As written, Proclamation 20-07 is also likely to affect any business where 250 or more people are gathered in one place. In addition to other precautions advised at this time, business owners should evaluate whether their operations involve gatherings of 250 or more people (including staff), taking action to reduce the number of people gathered.

Violation of this proclamation is subject to criminal penalties under RCW 43.06.220(5) (i.e. gross misdemeanor).  Our firm will be monitoring developments, which are likely to change over the days and weeks.

At the same time that the State of Washington issued this proclamation, King County, Pierce County, and Snohomish County issued parallel local Health Officer Orders.

For King County, additional prohibitions were added on gatherings of “fewer than 250” people unless event organizers take measures to minimize risks; “an ‘event’ is defined as any public gathering for business, social, or recreational activities.” The Health Officer Orders in Snohomish County and King County are nearly identical, except that the Snohomish County ban extends to “spiritual” activities, which would include religious organizations. Those steps include:

  • Older adults and individuals with underlying medical conditions that are at increased risk of COVID-19 are encouraged not to attend (including employees).
  • Social distancing recommendations must be met (i.e. limit contact of people within 6 feed from each other for 10 minutes or longer).
  • Employees must be screened for coronavirus symptoms each day and excluded if symptomatic.
  • Proper hand hygiene and sanitation must be readily available to all attendees and employees.
  • Environmental cleaning guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are followed (e.g. clean and disinfect high touch surfaces daily or more frequently).

Retail businesses such as grocery stores, drug stores, movie theaters, restaurants, other retail establishments may continue to provide services as long as they take steps to minimize the threat of the disease. Additional information and guidance is pending.

Our advice to clients is to take reasonable steps based on available guidance and to remain informed.

(Updated as of 03-12-2020)