OLYMPIA – A day after ordering restaurants, bars and many other businesses closed, Washington officials are considering more restrictions on residents to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday.
The state has already asked those over 60 years of age to “shelter in place,” but officials in New York City and San Francisco are considering such orders for all residents. Asked if Washington officials are considering such a move, Inslee said it would depend on epidemiologists’ assessment of the impact of current rules on “social distancing.”
Among the data being studied, he said, are traffic counts as a “proxy” to determine how many social interactions are being avoided by current strategies.
“We can’t rule anything in or out,” he said at a news conference after signing several bills to address the outbreak, including $200 million in emergency aid for people and businesses affected.
That money, from the state’s reserve account or “Rainy Day Fund,” sets aside $175 million to fight COVID-19, expanding hospital capacity and virus testing facilities at the University of Washington, along with plans to enforce social distancing among residents experiencing homelessness. It also gives the state Board of Education the authority to waive certain graduation requirements for high school seniors who were current on all requirements as of Feb. 29, when the state of emergency was declared but can’t finish them because of school closures.
Health officials are assessing the success of current restrictions daily and, in some cases, hourly, he said.
“We’re looking at the epidemiological evidence to determine whether the next steps might be worth the economic dislocation to families that would occur,” Inslee said.
Asked about enforcement of the current restrictions, which closed bars and indoor service at restaurants in the state, he said there has been strong support and, in some cases, community pressure to comply.
“Look, when you go out to the bar, if you are a 25-year-old person that might have a relatively minimal risk for mortality … going to the bar’s fun, been doing it for years – but you might be killing granddad,” Inslee said. “That’s simply the scientific reality of this.”
Also signed were bills to increase the state’s health care workforce by easing the Washington licensing requirements for doctors and nurses from other states and to increase access to telemedicine services for patient evaluations.
He and other governors are asking the federal government to temporarily waive certain requirements for minimum work hours for unemployment payments to workers laid off because of closures due to coronavirus restrictions. Asked how soon such assistance would be available, he replied, “As soon as humanly possible.”
The Washington National Guard is receiving more than 1,000 beds to increase hospital capacity for the expected influx of patients and the state is procuring ventilators, masks and gloves, Inslee said.
“Most additional capacity is likely to be in existing buildings,” Inslee said.
Earlier Tuesday, he amended an emergency order to restrict further access to patients in long-term care facilities, banning all visitors except those in end-of-life situations and legal representatives.
The state is also waiving temporarily the requirement for persons renewing driver’s licenses to take eye exams because the equipment is touched by hundreds of people a day.
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