At a press conference this morning in Olympia, Governor Jay Inslee announced new protections for workers and businesses that may be impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak. He also announced new restrictions for assisted-living and nursing facilities and, while fielding questions, hinted at broader mandatory social-distancing measures that could be implemented in the coming days.
In addition, Inslee outlined the concerning context for his new actions and warned about the potential for serious increases in coronavirus infections and deaths.
There are now 162 announced cases of COVID-19 in this state but, due to the lack of testing availability, that's likely a vast undercount. Inslee said today that he suspects there may be more like 1,000 cases statewide. (And that number, he added, could be a low estimate.)
If there are, indeed, about 1,000 current cases of COVID-19 in Washington, Inslee said, then based on his conversations with local and global experts in epidemiology, the number of coronavirus cases in this state could balloon to 64,000 by May—assuming a model in which the number of infections doubles roughly every week.
Using the World Health Organizations's estimate of a 3.4 percent mortality rate for COVID-19, Inslee then warned that in a scenario with 64,000 infections by May, Washington State would also be seeing about 1,900 coronavirus deaths by that time.
"We need to look forward, ahead of the curve," Inslee said. "If we’re going to stop this epidemic, we need to look at what’s coming and not just what’s going on today."
He commended Washington residents for changing habits in ways that will limit spread (social distancing, working from home, washing hands, etc.) but hinted that more aggressive changes may be coming soon.
A reporter referenced Spain and Portugal's decision to bar fans from attending soccer matches. Her question: "Will Washington implement anything similar?" (More than 30,000 fans attended a Sounders game last Saturday, she noted)
"We are considering policies in that regard," Inslee said, "I would not be shocked if we had more news on that in the next few days."
As for the actual news Inslee had today: On the worker front, new rules will allow employees who may lose their job or are quarantined because of COVID-19 to file for unemployment benefits. They can also qualify for Washington's Paid Family Leave program (applications for which are currently backlogged by nine weeks). Workers can get more information on support they can receive from the state at the Employment Security Department's website. They've made a whole page just for COVID-19 and this handy-dandy chart.
The biggest news for employers is that the state will "waive financial penalties for employers who file their tax reports late, pay their taxes late, or do not respond to information requests in a timely fashion as a result of COVID-19," according to Inslee.
New restrictions for long-term care facilities are outlined as follows:
Visitors must be adults and the visit must take place in the resident’s room. This does not apply to end-of-life situations. All visitors must follow COVID-19 screening and follow reasonable precautionary measures. Precautionary measures include, but are not limited to, wearing personal protective equipment, social distancing, or visiting in designated locations. All visitors must sign into a visitor’s log. Owners and operators must retain that log for 30 days. Employees or volunteers must be screened for COVID-19 symptoms at the start of each shift. People who live in nursing homes or assisted living facilities and who test positive for COVID-19 must be isolated away from other people. Owners, operators, staff and volunteers are prohibited from disclosing protected and confidential health information, except as otherwise provided by law or with the resident’s consent.