Gov. Jay Inslee urges public to forego holiday gatherings

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and his wife, Trudi, on Thursday urged people to forego gatherings and holiday travel plans as COVID-19 cases spike across the state, and the governor said further measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus will be announced in the coming days.

The state set a record for newly confirmed coronavirus cases on Saturday, with 1,777 additional cases announced. As of this week, more than 123,000 cases have been confirmed statewide and there have been 2,507 reported deaths.

“We are in as dangerous a position today as we were in March,” Inslee said during a brief statewide televised address. “We cannot wait until our hospitals’ halls are lined with gurneys waiting for rooms before we take decisive action.”

The Inslees said they would be celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas virtually with their family, and and urged the rest of the state to do the same.

“Please don’t gather with people outside your household,” the governor said. “It’s too dangerous.”

While the governor has held regular news conferences to discuss ongoing efforts against the coronavirus, the last statewide televised address Inslee gave was in April, when he updated the public on stay-at-home restrictions and warned that a return to public life would take a series of steps. The state was under a stay-at-home order from March 23 until the end of May.

Inslee said that an announcement on further measures will be made in the coming days, and will affect what people do outside of the home, but he said “what’s most urgent right now, tonight, is what we do in our own dwellings.”

“Every social gathering is just one more brick in a wall of infection,” Trudi Inslee said.

All of the state’s 39 counties are paused in either the second or third phase of a four-stage reopening plan that began in early May to start lifting restrictions on businesses and other activities. The staggered reopening was mean to restart the economy after the state saw massive layoffs and reduction of hours across multiple industries during the state’s stay-at-home order.

While the number of applications for unemployment insurance fell last week in 29 states, new numbers released Thursday show the figure jumped the highest in Washington, with 25,201 new claims representing a nearly 72% increase from the previous week. The latest unemployment rate numbers, from September, show the rate at 7.8%. New numbers for October will be released next week.

Inslee’s remarks came just two days after state and county health officials warned of an acceleration of coronavirus cases across the state, and pleaded with the public to take the pandemic more seriously heading into the winter holidays.

On Tuesday, state health officer Kathy Lofy, joined by state and county health officials, said cases have been steadily increasing since September, but that the most dramatic increases have occurred over the past two weeks. She said cases are rising among all age groups, indicating that transmission is widespread. She and others also expressed concern about a potential surge in hospitalizations that would put a strain on hospitals.

Newly confirmed infections in the U.S. are running at all-time highs of well over 120,000 per day, with cases rising in 49 states, and deaths increasing in 39. The nation has now recorded more than 242,000 virus-related deaths and over 10.5 million confirmed infections.

For most, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks, although long-term effects are unknown. But for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

Inslee said that he was optimistic that holidays in 2021 would return to normal, with the arrival of more therapeutics to treat COVID-19, as well as promising news about a vaccine.

“This is a temporary situation. We will get back to normal,” Inslee said. “The cavalry is on the way, but we need to keep people alive until it gets here.”