Inslee extends statewide restrictions, announces additional economic support


Bailey Tomlinson, News Editor

A three week extension on current statewide restrictions and economic support for small businesses and unemployment benefits was announced by Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday, Dec. 8.

The statewide restrictions, originally implemented on Nov. 15, will now end on Jan. 4, 2021.

The extension comes as the “state’s healthcare system nears dangerous occupancy levels,” the release said. The extension was made partially to allow Intensive Care Units (ICUs) to increase capacity before being overwhelmed. 

“Currently, nearly 80% of ICU beds are currently occupied, with around 1,000 residents in those units,” the release reads. “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.”

According to the COVID-19 Risk Assessment Dashboard for Washington, 929 out of 1,168 adult ICU staffed beds in the state were occupied as of Dec. 7. 

24%, or 281 of those beds, are occupied by patients suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19. This data is provided by the Washington State Department of Health (DOH).

“They’re not all [COVID-19] patients taking up the ICU beds, which is very important to remember. If [COVID-19] 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.”

According to the release, the effect of the Thanksgiving holiday on the capacity of the healthcare system is still unknown.

“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,” Secretary of Health John Wiesman said.

Additional economic support was also announced for small businesses and Washington residents seeking unemployment benefits. 

“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.

In the case that Congress does not extend the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance funding in the CARES Act by the end of the year, Inslee announced that the state would be able to assist in filling the gap in funding for state residents. Specifically, the release mentioned residents who aren’t eligible for regular unemployment benefits, such as self-employed workers, freelancers and independent contractors.

Congressional leaders are still negotiating as of writing, and hope to reach a deal by the end of the week.

Department of Commerce Director Lisa Brown also announced an additional $50 million will be given to small businesses through Working Washington grants. 

The added grants will double the number of small businesses that will receive aid, Brown said. 

Industries recently shut down, such as restaurants and fitness centers, as well as businesses that have been devastated by the pandemic, such as music and event venues, have been prioritized, according to the release.

“The needs among our small businesses are profound, and speed is of the essence,” Brown said. “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.”