OLYMPIA, Wash. - The latest statewide Covid-19 restrictions that were set to be lifted Dec. 14 - including a ban on indoor dining and wedding and funeral receptions - have been extended for an additional three weeks.
Gov. Jay Inslee made the announcement at a news conference Tuesday morning. He also announced $50 million more in support funds for businesses impacted by the latest rules, which now expire after Christmas and New Year's on Jan. 4, 2021.
“What we do between now — when COVID activity is still at crisis levels — and the time when vaccines are widely available, is literally a matter of life and death,” Inslee said.
Nearly 80% of intensive care hosptial beds in Washington state are currently occupied, according to the governor's office. That means about 1,000 people are in the ICU and hospitals are running out of space for new patients in those units.
“They’re 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.”
The governor said if Congress fails to extend unemployment assistance by Christmas, the state will cover Washington residents who didn't qualify for unemployment benefits before the pandemic started, like self-employed people, for example.
“The needs among our small businesses are profound, and speed is of the essence,” Washington Department of Commerce Director Lisa 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.”
The restrictions Inslee extended are the same ones he announced in mid-November ahead of Thanksgiving when coronavirus cases began to surge in Washington. They include:
- Indoor social gatherings with people outside your household are prohibited, unless you quarantined for 14 days prior, or quarantine for 7 days and have a negative COVID-19 test
- Outdoor social gatherings must be limited to 5 people from outside your household
- Restaurants and bars are closed for indoor service. Outdoor dining for to-go services are allowed, but must follow outdoor dining restrictions.
- Tables are limited to 5 people for outdoor dining. Restaurant restrictions go into effect at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 18
- Wedding and funerals receptions are prohibited. Ceremonies are limited to no more than 30 people.
- In-store retail, including grocery stores, must be limited to 25% indoor capacity and must close common areas. Food court dining must close.
- Religious services are limited to 25% indoor occupancy or no more than 200 people, whichever is fewer. No choir, band or ensemble can perform during service. Soloist are permitted to perform. Facial coverings must be worn at all times.
- Long-term care facilities outdoor care visits are allowed. Exceptions for essential support person or end-of-life care.
- Youth and adult sporting activities are limited to outdoor only, intrateam practices and masks are required for all athletes.
- Bowling centers must close indoor service
- Fitness facilities and gyms are to close for indoor service. Outdoor fitness classes may continue, but still follow outdoor gathering restrictions. Drop-off childcare will close.
- Misc. venues: all retail activities and business meetings are prohibited. Professional training and testing that cannot be done remotely is allowed. Occupancy in meeting rooms are limited to 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer.
- Movie theaters must close indoor service. Drive-in movie theaters are allowed.
- Museums, zoos and aquariums must close indoor service
- Real estate open houses are not allowed.
- All childcare services, K-12th grade and higher education is exempt from the new restrictions and will also continue with current guidance measures in place.
Inslee has argued that these restrictions are needed to counter rising Covid cases and prevent local hospitals from being overwhelmed.
But the rules have also sparked a lot of outcry from struggling business owners facing an uncertain future.
Some local business owners have refused to comply with the new restrictions and say they're leaving their doors open because their employees cannot afford anymore lost income.
They've also been criticized by local law enforcement agencies that say enforcement is too burdensome for small communities whose resources are already stretched thin.
Inslee said Tuesday that businesses caught defying the orders face steep fines: up to $9,000 per day or violation.
The State Department of Health on Monday announced 6,972 new cases throughout the state, but said that number includes both a backlog of COVID-19 positive lab test results received over the weekend and about 1,800 duplicates that have not yet been resolved.
The high number of cases reported is also due to catching up from a backlog created by temporary system slowdowns last week as servers were upgraded, health officials said. The estimated 1,800 duplicate cases in Monday’s total case counts will be removed from the dataset in the future as the department catches up on that process.
Covid continues to rage in the Spokane region, with outbreaks linked to long-term care facilities and the Airway Heights Corrections Center. Meanwhile, Grant County continues to see the effects of a 300-person wedding near Ritzville that became a COVID-19 super spreader event.
As of Tuesday, the state has reported a total of 184,404 cases and 2,941 deaths.
The U.S. has recorded about 15 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and over 284,000 deaths.
More than 1 million in Washington sign up for Covid-19 exposure app
About a week ago, Washington joined 18 states or U.S. territories that have already enlisted the use of smartphone technology in the ongoing effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
More than 1 million Washingtonians enabled the coronavirus exposure app in the first four days of the technology launching in the state. The technology, created by Apple and Google, is in use in more than 30 countries.
People with iPhones can enable the ‘exposure notifications’ feature that is already in their phone’s settings, and Android devices can download the app, called WA Notify. Use of the app is voluntary and users can opt-out at any time. The statewide expansion comes after a month-long pilot project used by 3,500 participants — including students, faculty and staff — at the University of Washington.
The app uses Bluetooth wireless technology to detect when someone who downloaded the app has spent time near another app user who later tests positive for the virus. Phones using WA Notify exchange random codes, which officials said are completely anonymous, with no location tracking or exchange of personal information.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.