Inslee extends restrictions to Jan. 4, announces new business grants

Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday that restrictions put in place in mid-November, which were set to expire next week, have been extended through Jan. 4.

The governor cited a continued rise in COVID-19 cases combined with the pressure the pandemic is putting on Washington’s health care system as the reasons for the three-week extension.

Kitsap County had a record 77 new cases from Monday to Tuesday, for example.

This means that restaurants and bars will be limited to take-out and other businesses, such as gyms, movie theaters, zoos, aquariums and museums, will have to continue to halt indoor service. Social gatherings indoors will also remain banned unless all parties quarantine for 14 days prior or seven days with a negative test.

Inslee said it’s possible that the state could “recalibrate” before Jan. 4 if there is “significant improvement” in the state’s virus activity.

“We remain concerned about COVID activity, and we still do not have a clear picture of the situation following the Thanksgiving weekend,” Inslee said in a news conference Tuesday.

The governor also announced an additional $50 million for business and employees affected by the recent directives, including restaurants and fitness centers, which is on top of the $135 million announced two weeks ago.

“These are grants, and they are unrestricted except for the business demonstration they are in the industries most affected by the current restrictions,” said Lisa Brown, Washington Commerce director.

Inslee also pledged to act by Christmas to extend the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance funding from the CARES Act if Congress fails to pass another relief package.

Data from the Department of Health shows signs of a plateau in confirmed cases through Nov. 23 — thus far the state already has 3,000 cases associated with Nov. 30, which is the highest single-day total of the entire pandemic — but hospitalizations have continued to rise well into December. Nearly 80 percent of intensive care unit beds are occupied, state officials said.

“Our sense is that we have decreased the acceleration, and that’s good news,” Secretary of Health John Wiesman said. “At the time when the governor implemented these rollbacks, we were accelerating very quickly over just a matter of days. So now we need to exercise the patience of giving the data enough time to see if indeed we are approaching a plateau or not.”