OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee Friday afternoon announced he’s working on measures intended to protect workers who might be particularly vulnerable to the novel coronavirus.
Inslee said his office is working on a policy giving workers over 65 and those with underlying health conditions the legal right to stay home for the duration of the outbreak, and “the financial means to be able to do that.” He said workers would also have the right to get their jobs back “when this blows over.”
“We’re trying to determine whether I can accomplish that by executive order” or whether action by the Legislature is needed, Inslee said.
Because at-risk workers “really can’t wait for that,” the governor called on employers to accommodate those workers now.
“If you are in one of these vulnerable groups, I want to see to it you have the right to stay home … and I urge you to do so,” he said.
Inslee did not issue a stay-at-home order for the state, as several other governors have. But he did sternly warn residents to stay at home, calling out some young people in particular for ignoring his bans on large gatherings and on eat-in restaurant and bar service.
“I am asking, you may say I am pleading with you, to stay home,” he said. “Stay home unless it is necessary for you to go out.”
His plan for vulnerable workers could be the latest in a string of statewide directives responding to the outbreak of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus. Those actions have included the temporary shutdown of K-12 schools and restaurants, bars and other businesses, and bans on large gatherings, such as sporting events and concerts.
Inslee has asked President Donald Trump to declare a major disaster in light of the coronavirus pandemic, he also announced Friday. That move could help secure extra aid for Washington residents, such as expanded unemployment benefits and food assistance.
That request comes as unemployment insurance claims have spiked after the governor shut down bars, restaurants and large gatherings in an effort to stem the spread of the virus. Trump approved a major disaster status for the state of New York late Friday.
Besides Inslee’s letter seeking disaster status, the Washington State Labor Council and the Association of Washington Businesses sent a joint letter Tuesday asking Washington’s congressional delegation to advocate for the disaster declaration.
A number of other business organizations, including the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce, sent a letter Thursday also asking Trump for the disaster declaration.
Meanwhile, the Washington Department of Health announced 148 newly confirmed cases on Friday, bringing the state’s to a total of 1,524 cases, which includes 83 deaths. Most of those cases are in King County, which has seen 793 people diagnosed and 67 deaths, according to the county health department.
The governor also recited a list of desperately needed medical equipment that he said is on the way.
Washington will be receiving in the coming days 1.6 million N95 respirator masks and additional surgical masks, 12 million disposable gloves, 650,000 disposable gowns and 74,000 canisters of disinfectant from the U.S. government’s Strategic National Stockpile, he said.
The state has also ordered about 200 ventilators from a Massachusetts firm and an additional 18 from another source, he said, “But we need to accelerate that effort.”
The federal government already has approved Washington state for a special health care status that could help officials and doctors here as they respond to the novel coronavirus crisis.
The status under Section 1135 of the Social Security Act — which allows the state to waive various regulations — should give health care providers more flexibility to use telemedicine; create new treatment facilities; partner with community organizations; quickly enroll more people in Medicaid; and more.