Gov. Jay Inslee announced new measures to combat the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, in a press conference Tuesday morning. He also thanked residents of the state who are careful about hygiene and cleanliness in the face of the virus, saying individual actions are the first line of defense in stopping the spread of COVID-19.
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“Hand-shaking is so yesterday,” Inslee said during the press conference. “We’re now doing the elbow bump. Our best weapon against this epidemic is smart, individual decision-making to reduce the interactions of people in which this transmission can occur.”
The governor also said as of Monday night, the state had 162 presumptive cases and 22 deaths from COVID-19, and the virus is now in eight counties in the state. Certain measures, Inslee said, will be instituted to protect those who might be displaced by the virus. These include limiting visitors to nursing homes to one a day in, an effort to protect the elderly — one of the most vulnerable populations of adults in an outbreak of this nature. The governor also stipulated the requirement does not apply to end-of-life visits.
“These visitors must be adults and these visits must take place in the resident’s room,” Inslee said. “All visitors must also follow COVID-19 screenings and follow reasonable precautionary measures.”
Among other requirements, nursing home and residential care visitors must use personal protection equipment (like face masks), and exercise “social distancing” or carrying out visits in designated locations. Visitors to these facilities also have to sign in to the visitor’s log, which owners and operators of these types of facilities are required to keep for 30 days.
Employers and volunteers at these residences, Inslee continued, must be screened for COVID-19 symptoms at the beginning of every shift and people who live in assisted living facilities or nursing homes are required to be isolated in their rooms if a health care provider recommends quarantine or isolation.
The extra precautions required by the state supplement emergency rules instituted early this week by the Department of Employment to provide extra support for employees who contract the virus. Employer-sponsored paid sick leave for COVID-19 patients, one of these measures to support workers who are ill or isolated, is one of the best responses the state can deliver, Inslee said.
“These additional rules are designed to provide a backstop for the majority of workers who do not have access to employer-sponsored paid leave,” Inslee said. “They will help relieve the burden of temporary layoffs, isolation or quarantine by ensuring unemployment to individuals whose employment has been impacted by COVID-19.”
Workers will get unemployment benefits under these rules, and employers will be granted relief of those charges if they have to cut back on business or close the business altogether because of issues related to the virus. Employees who get sick, in addition, may be granted unemployment benefits under the existing rules. Government employees, too, will be granted greater remote work options and expanded leave. State employees who can’t telework are permitted to stay home with pay for up to 14 days under the new rules.
“State organizations will expand all possible options to expand telework to state employees impacted by COVID-19,” Inslee said. “The sweep of these policies are really going to help people weather this economically. We’re pleased to be able to expand this economic security net, but we have to realize we have a long road ahead of us.”
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