Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday an extension of current COVID-19 restrictions, such as indoor gatherings of people not living together and indoor restaurant dining, through the holiday season.
The extension is through Jan. 4. The restrictions began Nov. 16 and were initially set to expire after four weeks.
No additional restrictions were announced in addition to those now in place, which include the closure of all fitness facilities and gyms, bowling alleys, movie theaters, museums, zoos and aquariums. Retail stores — including grocery stores — must limit their indoor capacity to 25 percent.
“This is because we remain concerned about COVID activity, and we still do not have a clear picture of the situation following the Thanksgiving weekend,” said Inslee during Tuesday’s press conference. “It is a three-week extension, but it is possible that we could re-calibrate before then if we see significant improvement.
“But, we don’t know enough yet about the pandemic’s course and the trajectory to be able to do that. So, this remains an extremely alarming situation.”
House Republican Leader J.T. Wilcox and Senate Republican Leader John Braun criticized the move in a joint statement.
“It’s very disappointing to see someone who has been drawing a government salary through this entire hardship ordering small businesses to continue complying with restrictions that are making it hard or impossible for them to feed their families. The governor has no idea the anguish and desperation average people are feeling right now.
“We could achieve the same results by partnering with small-business owners instead of targeting them.”
Inslee also announced on Tuesday an additional $50 million in grant funds for businesses that have been impacted by the restrictions. This is in addition to the $135 million in economic relief that was announced initially with the reinstatement of the restrictions, Inslee said.
Restaurants and bars will continue to be limited to outdoor dining with tables seating no more than five people and offering to-go services such as curbside pickup and delivery.
Also on Tuesday, Clallam County confirmed four additional cases of COVID-19, while Jefferson County confirmed two new cases, according to county health officers.
One of the new cases is a Clallam County jail inmate who was already in quarantine due to potential exposure, raising the total outbreak to three inmates, said Dr. Allison Unthank, Clallam County health officer.
North Olympic Peninsula health officers support Inslee’s decision as a way to curb the still-growing trend of COVID-19 cases statewide.
“I think that is the right move,” Unthank said. “We are starting to see some small gains in our response due in part to those restrictions and also the dedication of our population for following COVID-19 safety regulations.
“But, we’re still very early in turning these numbers around, and I believe that we will need those restrictions until at least early January.”
While levels of virus activity on the Peninsula is relatively low in comparison to other areas in the state, Inslee has to look at the state as a whole, said Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer.
“I think what the governor is doing is absolutely necessary,” he said. “The question is if it will be sufficient. COVID-19 activity is at an all-time high statewide right now.
“We’re at levels around the state where our system of testing, case investigations and contact tracing simply can not keep up with this amount of disease.
“The essential thing that needs to change, and what is the hardest to change, is what people are doing in their households and in their social life.”
If people continue to socially gather unmasked, continue to travel and not follow restrictions, the high levels of disease activity will continue, and it could overwhelm the health care system, Locke said.
“That — as it’s been all along — is a critical factor in all of this,” he said. “We can’t let the disease activity overwhelm our health care system, because then it’s not just access to treatment for COVID-19 but it’s access to treatment for everything else.
“Broken hips and heart attacks and cancer and all of the different life-threatening conditions that the health care system deals with, that access is imperative; so we don’t (want to) overwhelm our hospitals with COVID-19 cases.”
Statewide, intensive care unit (ICU) beds are more than 80 percent full due to COVID-19 patients, and that has an impact on other medical emergencies that are not COVID-19 related, Inslee said.
As of Tuesday, there are four Clallam County residents hospitalized for COVID-19 and one patient in the ICU, Unthank said.
The case rates in both counties continue to be in the state’s high-risk category, with Clallam County at 196 cases per 100,000 population for the past two weeks, and Jefferson County at about 110 cases per 100,000 for the two weeks prior as of Monday, Unthank and Locke said.
The test positivity — the number of COVID-19 tests returned positive — in each county dropped slightly to 4.7 percent in Clallam County for Nov. 21 through Dec. 5 and 2.31 percent in Jefferson County for Nov. 30 through Dec. 6, Unthank and Locke said.
So far this month, Jefferson County has confirmed 15 cases of COVID-19, about 8 percent of the 185 total cases the county has confirmed since March, according to Jefferson County Public Health data.
Clallam County has confirmed 78 cases this month, about 13 percent of the 594 total cases the county has confirmed since March, according to Clallam County Public Health data.
There are currently 95 active COVID-19 cases in Clallam County and 19 active cases in Jefferson County, public health data said.
Jefferson County Reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at [email protected].