Gov. Jay Inslee Tuesday announced additional economic supports for workers and businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Inslee also announced a three-week extension of the state’s current restrictions which will now be in place until January 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 at a press conference Tuesday morning.
Washington has distributed billions of dollars in federal and state funds to help all of the state’s industries and workers impacted by this pandemic to date, $50 million going straight to businesses through Working Washington grants.
Inslee was joined by Department of Commerce Director Lisa Brown who announced an additional $50 million, doubling the number of Washington small businesses that will receive aid. Industries recently shut down, such as restaurants and fitness centers, as well as businesses that have been devastatingly impacted throughout the pandemic, like music and event venues, have been prioritized.
“The needs among our small businesses are profound, and speed is of the essence,” 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.”
In addition, Inslee also announced the state’s readiness to step in in the case of congressional failure to extend the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance funding in the CARES Act by the end of the year. Washington will be able to fill some of the funding gap for residents that aren’t eligible for regular UI, such as self-employed workers, freelancers and independent contractors.
“Whether it is through federal or state aid, if Congress fails to act by Christmas, we will step up to help workers and their families who are not covered by pre-pandemic unemployment insurance benefits,” Inslee said.
The three-week extension of statewide restrictions come as the state’s healthcare system nears dangerous occupancy levels. With the effects of Thanksgiving on infection and hospital numbers still unknown, the extension will grant the state’s medical system much needed time to increase Intensive Care Unit (ICU) capacity before it’s overwhelmed.
“We all hoped a fall surge would not materialize. Sadly, that was not the case and our hospital systems continue to be heavily impacted by rising cases,” said Secretary of Health John Wiesman. “It’s important we stay the course right now. We cannot let our guard down, even though it’s hard and we’re tired. We need people to mask up, stay home as much as possible and delay gatherings with anyone outside your home.”
Currently, nearly 80% of ICU beds are currently occupied, with around 1,000 residents in those units. Even in the best-case scenario, hospitals across the state would need to add surge capacity to ensure enough ICU beds to care for COVID-19 patients in the weeks and months to come. In the worst-case scenario, state ICU capacity would need to be doubled before the end of the year.
“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.”