OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee said Friday he isn’t ready to order residents to stay in their homes, but he might go down that path if Washingtonians don’t make a greater commitment to blunting the spread of coronavirus by drastically reducing social interactions.
“We have made some progress, but it is not enough. We are still seeing people behaving as if this virus was not a mortal threat,” Inslee said at an afternoon news conference. “Everybody needs to change their behavior.”
He also had a stern message for employers, saying they must do more to protect workers who are most at risk of contracting COVID-19. If they don’t, it might be mandated by the state.
“I’m working on a proclamation to ensure these workers have a legal right to leave the workplace to protect their health and self-isolate,” Inslee said of people in vulnerable populations, including workers over 65. “Whether it’s industrial or a warehouse or an office or a retail store, you have a moral and legal obligation to make this work for all your employees.”
When asked if the Boeing Co. should temporarily shut down its massive assembly plant at Paine Field in Everett — a step some workers are seeking because of concerns about their potential for exposure to the virus — Inslee demurred. The aerospace giant is an integral part of the economy, he said. The safety and economic impacts on families from such an action must be considered.
“What we want to tell Boeing employees and all employees,” he said, “is that if you’re are over age 65 or have serious underlying medical conditions, you ought to be able to stay at home, keep your job and collect unemployment benefits.”
On Friday, the state Department of Health reported a cumulative 1,524 confirmed cases in Washington and 83 fatalities.
The Snohomish Health District said the county has logged 385 coronavirus cases, and an eighth death occurred Thursday — a woman in her 90s with underlying health conditions who was connected with the Josephine Caring Community in Stanwood.
King continues to be the worst of 25 counties that report COVID-19 cases. On Friday the tally there was 793 infections and 67 fatalities.
In recent days, leaders of California and New York responded to a rise in COVID-19 cases and deaths in their states by imposing shelter-in-place restrictions on residents.
Inslee said Friday that Washington residents are already living with many of the same restrictions.
He has acted to close schools for weeks, ban large social gatherings, shutter bars, gyms and other businesses, and to limit restaurant service to only take-out or drive-thru options.
Nonetheless, shelter-in-place on a regional or statewide basis is still an option.
“I am not issuing any legally binding orders today,” Inslee said, adding that it doesn’t mean it won’t happen in the future.
He pleaded with young adults to take social distancing seriously, to curb their social interactions and to “stay home unless it is necessary for you to go out.”
Ditto for seniors.
“Tell the older folks: You can’t go out anymore. You can go for food or to the pharmacy. A walk outside is OK if you stay six feet away,” the governor said. “No dinner parties, no coffee klatches, no sewing needle get-togethers. These are too dangerous for older folks,” Inslee said.
Also Friday, Inslee urged President Donald Trump to declare a major disaster in Washington due to COVID-19, a move which could speed the arrival of federal aid and resources to the state. The president on Friday did issue such a declaration for New York.
Such a declaration would open the door to expanded federal unemployment assistance and an array of services for families of individuals who contract the disease and families affected economically by school and business closures. It also would bolster ongoing efforts to distribute emergency supplies, shelter the homeless and support individuals with disabilities.
“This COVID-19 pandemic event is beyond the capability of the state, tribes and local governments,” Inslee wrote to Trump in a letter released Friday. “The state urgently requires additional supplemental federal emergency assistance in order to save lives, protect public health and safety, and limit further spread of the disease.”
In his letter to the president, Inslee described an especially dire situation for those tirelessly working to halt the spread of coronavirus and treat the infected.
“As the pandemic continues to expand, front-line health care workers will be unable to adequately address the medical needs of patients with health concerns both related and unrelated to COVID-19,” he wrote.
State and local resources “have been overwhelmed and exhausted,” he wrote. Personal protective equipment are getting distributed first to medical workers and first responders to “slow the consumption of these critical resources.”
First responders are planning to use “non-medical, non-standard, and untested alternative personal protection methods to provide some form of protection when responding to emergency and health related calls,” he told the president.
It may not come to that. Shipments of masks, disposable gloves and gowns from the national stockpile are due to arrive this weekend, Inslee said.
Friday also brought an initial measurement of the pandemic’s impact on the workforce of the state and Snohomish County.
The state Employment Security Department reported a surge in new claims for unemployment benefits in the week ending March 14 — the first days following the closing of bars and restaurants in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties.
Statewide, there were 14,154 new claims filed, an increase of 7,606 from the previous week. More than half of that increase came in King County, where the number rose from 1,837 in the week ending March 7 to 5,834 last week.
In the same period, claims in Snohomish County went from 733 to 1,386, according to figures compiled by the state agency.
Herald writers Chuck Taylor and Janice Podsada contributed to this report.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald net.com. Twitter: @dospueblos