OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday he is extending, through the holidays to Jan. 4, statewide restrictions on businesses and social gatherings intended to curb spread of the coronavirus, as key pandemic metrics continue to worsen locally and across Washington.
“Just like Thanksgiving, all of us are going to have an opportunity to save lives while continuing to be responsible and not have large gatherings,” Inslee said during a televised news conference. “It was the right thing to do in November. It will be the right thing to do in December.”
He’s also adding another $50 million to the state’s $135 million relief fund for hurting businesses.
Additionally, if Congress fails to pass another stimulus bill by the end of the month, the state will bolster payments for the nearly 100,000 Washingtonians receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which is set to expire on Dec. 26, Inslee said.
The governor didn’t specify what the added benefit would be, but said, “it will be a pretty healthy amount.”
“We will not allow people to fall off that cliff in the state of Washington if Congress does not act,” he said.
The latest restrictions — which prohibit indoor dining and closed gyms, movie theaters and other businesses — took effect in November. They were previously set to expire next Monday.
At the time they were imposed, the governor called it the “most dangerous public health day” the state had faced in 100 years. Later in November, Inslee announced the state would more than double an economic relief package for businesses and workers.
Early data show the spread of the virus may be slowing, but it’s too early to tell, Inslee said. It could take another week to see if cases rose due to Thanksgiving gatherings.
“Our sense is that we have decreased the acceleration, and that’s good news,” state Secretary of Health Dr. John Wiesman said. “At the time the governor implemented these rollbacks, we were accelerated very quickly over just a matter of days. Now we need to exercise the patience of giving the data enough time to see if we are indeed approaching a plateau or not.”
Statewide, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID are still on the rise.
That’s the case in Snohomish County, as well.
Across the county, 22 people died of COVID-19 between Nov. 21 and 28, mirroring numbers previously seen last spring.
As of Tuesday, local hospitals were filled with 87 confirmed and six suspected COVID patients.
And the latest two-week case rate shows 428 new infections per 100,000 residents — up from 368 per 100,000 the previous week.
On Tuesday, the Snohomish Health District reported a cumulative 16,733 cases since last January, up 267 from the day before, and 317 total deaths in the county. Fourteen of the 87 confirmed COVID-19 patients presently hospitalized are on ventilators.
“The numbers speak for themselves,” county health officer Dr. Chris Spitters said Tuesday. “We have dozens of people dying a week from a communicable disease, the transmission of which is ongoing and widespread. It’s severe.”
The majority of new infections are in people 20 to 49 years old, data show. However, cases are rising among every age group.
And you’re most likely to get COVID through exposure by a close contact, like a roommate, family member, friend or co-worker.
The widespread transmission, Spitters has said, includes many in long-term care homes, where residents are most vulnerable to severe illness or death from COVID.
There are more than 500 cases across outbreaks at 44 such facilities in Snohomish County, the largest being Josephine Caring Community in Stanwood, which could have the largest long-term-care outbreak the state has seen.
The Stanwood facility has more than 170 confirmed cases and at least 15 deaths since late October, the Snohomish Health District reported last week.
“The outbreak there is not over,” Spitters said. “But they’re working well with our staff and doing their best to get over it.”
Inslee’s announcement came as state and county leaders were preparing for the first shipments of a COVID vaccine.
The state anticipates 219,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 182,000 doses from Moderna by the end of the month, Wiesman said.
With limited early supply, the first doses will go to high-risk health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities.
Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require to people to receive two doses, separated by three to four weeks.