Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced this week that he is extending restrictions on businesses and gatherings for another three weeks, through Jan. 4, 2021, to help stem the continued spread of COVID-19 and avoid overwhelming the state’s medical system.
“We all hoped a fall surge would not materialize. Sadly, that was not the case and our hospital systems continue to be heavily impacted by rising rates,” Washington Secretary of Health John Wiesman said Tuesday, Dec. 8. “It’s important to stay the course right now. We cannot let our guard down, even though it’s hard, and we’re tired.”
Wiesman and Inslee continue to encourage people to take COVID-19 precautions in their daily lives to slow the spread of a virus that has claimed more than 285,000 lives and sickened millions in the United States over the past 10 months.
“We need people to mask up, stay home as much as possible and delay gatherings with anyone outside your home,” Wiesman said.
Inslee placed new restrictions on businesses in November as COVID-19 cases surged across Washington and the U.S., shutting down indoor dining at restaurants and bars and closing many businesses such as gyms, fitness studios and movie theaters, where mask-wearing was not always possible. The governor also asked Washingtonians to avoid gathering with non-household members over the Thanksgiving holiday.
This week, Inslee said the state’s intensive care unit (ICU) beds are at 80 percent capacity and facing a shortage of ICU beds if Washington cannot flatten the COVID-19 curve over the next few weeks.
“There’s not all COVID patients taking up the ICU beds, which is very important to remember: If COVID overwhelms our medical facilities, every other person with a significant medical need will be affected, not just COVID-19 patients,” Inslee said. “We are all, quite literally, in this together.”
State leaders said the impacts of Thanksgiving week gatherings are still unknown.
In Clark County, COVID-19 cases continue to rise exponentially. The county’s COVID activity rate has more than tripled since the beginning of November, climbing from 131 cases per 100,000 residents the week of Nov. 2, to 427 cases per 100,000 residents the week of Nov. 30.
The county’s activity rate is nearly six times greater than the 74 or fewer cases per 100,000 residents public health experts have recommended as a target for safely returning students to the classroom on a part-time basis.
The county’s percentage of positive COVID-19 tests also is on the rise: jumping from 13.45 percent positive tests the week of Nov. 8-14 to a positive rate of 17.33 percent the week of Nov. 15-21 according to data from Clark County Public Health.
State to extend pandemic unemployment benefits, add $50 million to business grants
On Tuesday, Inslee tweeted that the decision to continue restrictions, which will be in place through the Christmas holiday weekend, was not an easy conclusion to reach.
“This is an incredibly hard decision to make,” Inslee wrote. “We know some of our businesses are hanging on by a thread. In light of that, we’re making an additional $50 million in business grants available for businesses impacted by these decisions.”
In November, Inslee announced the state would provide $70 million in grants to businesses to help them through the new restrictions. This week, he said the state would add $50 million to that amount.
Washington Department of Commerce Director Lisa Brown said the new $50 million worth of grants will double the number of Washington businesses, including restaurants, fitness centers and music and event venues, that will receive aid to help them weather ongoing restrictions.
Both Inslee and Brown said they are hoping Congress will pass another COVID-19 relief package to help families, individuals and businesses struggling to survive the pandemic and its economic shutdowns.
“The needs among our small businesses are profound, and speed is of the essence,” Brown said. “This additional funding allows us to double the number of small businesses we can provide aid to, but we know it’s not enough. As we battle the toughest months of this pandemic, we need Congress to step up so we can support our businesses and workers as we continue asking them to do these hard things.”
Inslee said Tuesday that, even if Congress does not pass a relief bill before the holidays, the state of Washington is prepared to continue Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits after Dec. 25.
“That means business owners, self-employed workers and independent contractors will still be eligible for assistance (in Washington),” Inslee said.