Inslee urges people to wear masks in social settings to fight COVID-19

Governor gives updates on unemployment backlog, says he will sign proclamation protecting private information during contact tracing

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Washington Gov. Jay Inslee wears a face mask as he arrives to speak at a news conference on June 23, 2020, at the Capitol in Olympia. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, contributed photo courtesy of The Columbian)

One week after announcing a new round of restrictions on restaurants and bars in a bid to help suppress rising COVID-19 cases, Washington Governor Jay Inslee today urged Washingtonians to wear face coverings in social situations such as backyard barbecues and birthday parties. 

“There is data on the increased usage of masks, and that is very heartening,” Inslee said in a press conference held this afternoon. “We’ve shown that we are very successful on the business side … But some survey results show we might be less (successful) on the social side.”
To get on top of the COVID-19 pandemic, Inslee said, the state needs to have 90 to 95 percent of people wearing face coverings when they’re shopping as well as when they’re socializing. 

“Washingtonians are stepping up to the plate when they go out shopping, so it shows us the same can be true in social settings,” Inslee said. “It may be more necessary in social settings because we’re spending more time with people.”
On wearing masks to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, Inslee said: “We know it works. We know it’s cheap. And we want to thank people for stepping up to the plate.”

Governor will sign proclamation to protect people’s private information during contact tracing

The governor also spoke about the state’s need for quick and accurate contact tracing to help stem COVID-19, and said he would help protect people’s private information during the process. 

“Later today I will sign a proclamation to exempt personally identifiable information from disclosure under the Public Records Act,” Inslee said. That information includes people’s names, phone numbers, addresses and birthdates. 

The governor said he hoped the stronger privacy protections would make people feel more comfortable about participating in the contact-tracing process. 

“This can be one of the most effective tools to help prevent people from getting this disease … but for it to work, we need people to answer the phone and help (the contact tracers),” he said. 

New restrictions for bars, restaurants go into effect today

On July 23, the governor issued a new round of restrictions for bars and restaurants in Washington amid rising COVID-19 cases throughout the state. 

“I know we all care about business openings and people getting back to work,” Inslee said at his July 23 press conference. “Unfortunately we know this, the rate of transmission has been increasing around the state. Our suppression of this virus is not at the level it needs to be to continue to allow us to continue to allow more activity.”

The new order prohibits indoor service at bars, taverns, breweries and wineries in counties like Clark County, which are in Phase 2 of the state’s four-phase “Safe Start” reopening plan. It also limits indoor dining at restaurants to people in the same household, and prohibits restaurants from serving alcohol after 10 p.m.

New restrictions on wedding and funeral receptions limiting indoor events to 30 people or 20 percent of a venue’s capacity — whichever is smaller — take effect Aug. 6.

Asked today when he might lift the alcohol and dining restrictions, Inslee said he could not give a specific date. 

“The more people wear masks in social settings, the more we’ll be able to reopen in general,” he said. “(Lifting the restrictions on bars and restaurants) depends on how many people want to pitch in on this.” 

Inslee expects backlog of unemployment claims to be resolved this week

The governor said the state has been “working diligently” to resolve claims from the thousands of Washingtonians who have filed for unemployment insurance during the pandemic. 

“The department intends to finish clearing the backlog of claims from March to June by the end of the day tomorrow (July 31),” Inslee said. 

He added that he found it “troublesome” that Congress may end the extra $600 a week payment unemployment insurance recipients in the United States have received since the early days of the pandemic. 

“Unemployment is not just an investment in the recipients, but in our state and nation,” Inslee said. “Those people are consumers who want to pay their rent and help keep the wheels (of the economy) turning.” 

“We remain hopeful that Congress will come through (and extend the weekly $600 benefit),” Inslee said. 

Asked about the possibility of Congress changing the unemployment benefits model to a percentage-based system, Inslee said the idea was concerning. 

“To reconfigure (the state’s unemployment insurance system) could take weeks or months,” he said, adding that the need for unemployment assistance due to the COVID-19 pandemic had not gone away for most Americans who found themselves suddenly out of work in the spring. 

“The need for this has not been diminished,” Inslee said. “Who would think the need for this has been diminished? The economy has not improved.” 

The governor said he expects to have more updates — including updates on school reopenings and rules for gyms and fitness centers — in the next few days. 

In the meantime, he again urged Washingtonians to follow the rules on social distancing and wearing face coverings, especially when it comes to unstructured social situations. 

“We can’t just hang around with 30, 40, 50 people,” Inslee said. “It’s just too dangerous. And it’s going on right now. It’s going on throughout our community, frankly, and that’s why we’re experiencing what we’re experiencing. We’re just seeing way too much social interaction. It’s fun … it’s attractive … but it is dangerous.”