Dear Friends and Neighbors,
This coming Thursday, March 19, I will be holding a telephone town hall to provide an update of the 60-day legislative session, which concluded its business last Thursday. There's also much concern over the coronavirus outbreak. I will devote most of this email update to help you find the resources you need to prepare and respond.
Join me for a telephone town hall this Thursday, March 19, 6 p.m.
I really appreciated all who came to my town hall meetings in February in Vaughn, Gig Harbor and Port Orchard. It was a great face-to-face discussion of issues being debated during the legislative session. That was before the coronavirus became a crisis in our state.
Reaching out and talking about issues that affect our district is just as important now, if not more. That's why a telephone town hall is a perfect way of talking with citizens from across the 26th District from the comfort of their homes.
The telephone town hall is similar to a radio call-in talk show. Listeners can press the star (*) key on their telephone keypads to ask questions during the program.
To participate, call (360) 499-8352 at 6 p.m. this Thursday, March 19. The program will end at 7 p.m.
If you would like more information, call my Olympia office: (360) 786-7802 or email me: Michelle.Caldier@leg.wa.gov
Coronavirus resources — What you should know
There's an enormous amount of uncertainty as news about the coronavirus continues to change hour-by-hour. Here's what we know as of this afternoon, March 17:
Counties reporting the virus
- As of this afternoon (March 17), the state Department of Health says there are 1,012 cases of coronavirus in Washington, including 52 deaths. Most of those cases and fatalities are in King County. There are 45 confirmed cases in Pierce County and seven in Kitsap County. Fortunately, no fatalities reported in either of our two counties. You can get the latest information on the location of confirmed cases on the Washington State Department of Health website. Their call center is open 6 a.m. – 10 p.m., seven days a week, and can be reached at 1-800-525-0127.
- Please keep in mind the statistics I've cited above are confirmed cases. Not everyone is being tested and there are likely many unconfirmed who now have the virus. Due to limited testing, the long incubation period of the virus, and wide range of symptoms people have, the number of those infected is expected to be much higher.
- Go here to get information from your local health departments and districts.
Dining, entertainment facility closures
- On Monday, Gov. Jay Inslee announced a statewide emergency proclamation to temporarily shut down restaurants, bars and entertainment and recreational facilities. The governor said restaurants will be allowed to provide take-out and delivery services, but no in-person dining will be permitted. The ban will not apply to grocery stores and pharmacies. The ban takes effect at midnight tonight and will be in place through March 31. For a resource list to help impacted Washington businesses, workers, and citizens, go here.
- All gatherings with more than 50 participants are now prohibited in Washington. Gatherings with less than 50 participants are also prohibited unless previously announced criteria for public health and social distancing are met. President Trump is advising a much smaller number, saying Monday at a White House news conference, “My administration is recommending that all Americans, including the young and healthy, work to engage in schooling from home when possible, avoid gathering in groups of more than 10 people, avoid discretionary travel and avoid eating and drinking at bars, restaurants and public food courts.”
- As of today, March 17, all public and private schools in Washington state are closed. 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. All public and private higher education facilities are also prohibited from holding in-person classes statewide.
Statewide resources from the Legislature
- On Thursday, the Legislature approved 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, which 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 will allow 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.
Unemployment benefits for affected workers
- Also on Thursday, the state Employment Security Department announced expanded benefits for workers impacted by COVID-19. Go here to see who qualifies.
- 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.
- 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 more information.
- Two Spokane veterans home residents have been hospitalized and are being tested for COVID-19. One staff person at the Walla Walla Veterans Home is also being tested. You can get more information about veterans homes and how they are affected here.
Protect yourself and your family for COVID-19
President Trump has issued official Coronavirus Guidelines for America, which asks citizens to take certain steps for the next 15 days to slow the spread of the virus. The Center for Disease Control has also created a website to help you and your family protect yourselves against this outbreak.
Prevent the spread of COVID-19
- Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes with an elbow, sleeve or tissue.
- Good personal health habits (diet/exercise) help prevent respiratory infections, including coronaviruses and influenza.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
- See more here: https://publichealthinsider.com/2020/02/24/what-happens-if-the-novel-coronavirus-covid-19-spreads-here-a-conversation-with-our-health-officer/.
- Shortness of breath
If someone believes they are showing symptoms:
- If someone has symptoms, they should call their doctor—not go to the hospital. The doctor will make an assessment about next steps. If it requires a COVID-19 test, the doctor will then contact public health officials and they will arrange a test.
- The Washington State Department of Health has established a call center to address questions from the public. If you have questions about what is happening in Washington, how the virus is spread, and what to do if you have symptoms, you can call 1-800-525-0127 and press #.
We can get through this
There's no question this is changing our daily lives. Children are now home from school. Working parents are trying to balance work and staying home to take care of their children. Many people are now working from their homes as businesses try to survive. Lots of folks are worried about their jobs, their health and their future. Washingtonians are resilient and I'm confident that even though times ahead will be difficult, we will get through this.
Please don't be misled by misinformation, especially on social media and the Internet. The links above provide official state and federal information about what you can do to keep yourself and your family safe, and resources to help in these difficult financial times.
Also, I encourage all of us to do our part to help the economy by supporting our local businesses. Although there is no indoor dining, many food service establishments have transitioned to take-out, drive-thru, or delivery food orders. Please continue to solicit these and other establishments while practicing social distancing.
My office in Olympia is ready to help if you find roadblocks navigating through state agencies during this crisis. Feel free to reach out if you have questions or concerns. And please join me this Thursday evening on my telephone town hall as we address these and other issues.
It is an honor to serve you!