Dear Friends and Neighbors,
With the 60-day session ending March 12, normally I would be providing a final report of the session activities. However, in the days since the session adjourned, the coronavirus (COVID-19) has taken front and center, not only in the news, but in each of our lives. As your state representative, I want to make sure you have the information and resources you need to stay healthy and safeguard against this virus.
What a difference two weeks makes!
Within 24 hours after the Legislature adjourned, Gov. Jay Inslee signed proclamations closing every public and private school in Washington, which became effective March 17. Those closures will continue through Friday, April 24, subject to extension. Get the latest information on school closures from the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. The governor also issued a proclamation to prohibit all public and private higher education facilities from holding in-person classes statewide.
On March 16, the governor issued another proclamation to temporarily shut down restaurant, bars and entertainment and recreational facilities. At that time, the governor said restaurants are allowed to provide takeout and delivery services, but no in-person dining is permitted. He then announced a prohibition of all gatherings with more than 50 participants, and those with less than 50 participants were also prohibited unless criteria for public health and social distancing were met. This has since changed as you'll see with the governor's recent Stay Home, Stay Healthy order — details below.
Where we are now
I have been involved in conference calls with the governor's office and other lawmakers in which we are briefed on the state's response and have the ability to provide input in that process.
On Sunday, President Trump approved Washington state's major disaster declaration, which clears the way for additional federal assistance. We are working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and doing all we can to get additional help.
News about the coronavirus situation continues to change by the hour. Here's the latest information as of today, March 26.
Cases in Washington
On March 16, there were 60 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Washington state and 42 deaths. Three of those cases were in Clark County. As of this morning, March 26, the state Department of Health reports 2,580 confirmed cases and 132 deaths in Washington. There are 16 confirmed cases in Clark County and four deaths in our county. My heart goes out to each of those family members who have tragically lost loved ones from this virus. Our prayers for a full recovery remain with those who are now afflicted.
Stay Home, Stay Healthy order
Early Monday evening, Gov. Inslee addressed the state of Washington, in which he issued a statewide “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” proclamation order. The order is similar to orders that other governors, in places such as California and New York, issued last week.
I have heard from many who are very concerned about this order. I share your concerns of balancing individual rights and the economy with public safety. Each of these is extremely important.
What does this stay-home order mean for me?
- It requires every Washingtonian to stay at home unless they are pursuing an essential activity, such as shopping for groceries, going to a doctor's appointment, or going to work at an essential business.
- It closes all businesses, except essential businesses. To see what the governor defines as an “essential business,” go here. Grocery stores, pharmacies, banks and other essential businesses may stay open. Restaurants can continue to offer takeout and delivery. Business closings became effective at midnight last night and will remain in effect until midnight, April 8, unless extended beyond that date.
- It bans ALL gatherings of people for social, spiritual and recreational purposes. This applies to BOTH private and public gatherings. It applies to every type of gathering, including weddings, funerals, birthday get-togethers and church service gatherings. This ban takes effect immediately.
- While some might call this a “shelter in place” order, that's not what this does. It is still safe to go outside using social distancing – keeping at least six-feet apart from others. The grocery stores and other essential businesses will remain open.
- The prohibition does not apply to businesses consisting exclusively of employees or contractors performing business activities at their home or residence, and who do not have in-person contact with others. Businesses teleworking are encouraged to continue that practice.
- If the function of your business is not included in the governor's list as an essential business or service, but you believe it is essential or it is an entity providing essential services or functions, you can request designation as an essential business. To clarify status or petition to be added to the list, fill out the form on this website.
- For information on the governor's authority during an emergency, click here.
Help from the Legislature
During the legislative session, the House and Senate unanimously passed House Bill 2965, which uses $175 million from the rainy day fund for state and local agencies to fight the disease. It also provides $25 million to the newly-created COVID-19 unemployment account. This will allow employers who have employees receiving unemployment insurance benefits due to the virus outbreak to have those charges reimbursed by the state. In addition, the bill allows the state Board of Education to grant emergency waivers to high school students who won't meet certain graduation requirements if their schools are closed for extended periods.
More assistance needed; special session likely
Given the reality caused by the coronavirus situation, the Legislature will need to provide more financial assistance to help people through this period. Our legislative leaders are now discussing the possibility of calling the Legislature into a special session for this purpose. I will keep you updated on details as they come forth.
Resources to help you get through this crisis
We've had other disasters in Washington state (earthquakes, floods, eruption of Mt. St. Helens), but nothing like this, which has so greatly disrupted lives, our economy, and put so many people at risk.
Many people are concerned about paying their bills, taking care of their families, and staying healthy. Many businesses are wondering if they will be able to continue. I want to assure you that we are working to help people get through this, both in terms of public safety, ensuring health and wellness, and getting our economy back on its feet when this has passed.
The most important thing to know right now is where to find resources to help you, your business and your family.
The official Washington state web portal for updates and resources related to the coronavirus is: coronavirus.wa.gov
The state House Republican Caucus communications team in Olympia has compiled an easy-to-use list of resources and information dedicated to helping Washington citizens during this coronavirus situation: http://houserepublicans.wa.gov/coronavirus. This is a handy one-stop source for resources, news and information on the coronavirus crisis.
Here are two additional links:
- Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) information and updates | Governor's office – Includes governor's proclamations and latest news.
- 2019 Novel Coronavirus Outbreak (COVID 19) | Washington State Department of Health – Provides information about symptoms, testing, confirmed cases and fatalities across the state involving the virus.
Here are other resources to help you find what you need:
Employers and employees
State agencies have been working with federal agencies, employers and workers to support businesses and workers affected by COVID-19.
- The Employment Security Department has information for employees and employers about possible benefits, such as paid family and medical leave, unemployment benefits and SharedWork.
- The Department of Commerce is working with the federal Small Business Administration to secure loan assistance, and also has information for businesses experiencing trade impacts.
- The Department of Labor and Industries oversees the state's paid sick leave law, the workers' compensation program and workplace safety issues.
- The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommendations to help employers keep their workers safe with sick leave policies, cleaning routines, etc.
- Health insurers have been ordered to waive deductibles and co-pays for coronavirus testing. You can get more information about how different types of insurance coverage may be affected here.
- For Washingtonians without health insurance, the Washington Health Benefits Exchange opened a limited-time special enrollment period through April 8. Go here for information.
- The Office of the Insurance Commissioner has information about insurance coverage businesses need to protect themselves from potential losses.
- The Washington State Department of Financial Institutions has developed a list of financial resources for Washington consumers impacted by COVID-19. Go here to view that list.
Together, we will get through this
There's no question that lives have been changed during this time and we're still working our way through this. However, together we will be strong, courageous and resilient. In tough times we rise to the occasion and the best shines through. We see the dedication of our health care professionals, first responders, volunteers, business leaders donating resources, faith leaders providing encouragement, and neighbors helping a shut-in neighbor with groceries. This is an opportunity for us to come together to save lives, care for one another, and be even stronger after this storm has passed.
My office stands ready to help in any way possible, especially if you find roadblocks navigating through state agencies during this time. Feel free to reach out if you have questions or concerns by emailing me at Vicki.Kraft@leg.wa.gov or call my District Office at (360) 258-1466.
God bless you and your family during this difficult time. Thank you for the honor of allowing me to serve and represent you!