Inslee Meets With South King County Leaders to Address Surge in COVID-19 Cases in the County

by Jack Russillo

COVID-19 cases are increasing around King County, particularly in the southern part of the county, which prompted Gov. Jay Inslee to hold a series of meetings in Federal Way with local movers and shakers.

The Governor met with local elected officials, healthcare leaders, and heads of local businesses on Friday afternoon, July 17, at the Federal Way Performing Arts and Events Center to discuss strategies to curtail the spread of the coronavirus. 

Inslee noted that healthcare officials say that cases of COVID-19 in King County are increasing in “significant amounts,” notably among younger people — but that the virus has affected people of all ages and demographics. Wednesday, July 15, had the highest number of new positive cases of the virus in one day, 192, in King County since early April. 

“South King County is the center of the pandemic in King County,” Inslee said. “The numbers are much more pronounced in this region, and that’s not surprising given the economic conditions. We know that health concerns always hurt people who are most challenged economically, and it’s no different in this pandemic.”

The governor said that the $10 million in small business grants that the state began awarding in May were considered a success and helped many organizations stay afloat during the early stages of the pandemic. Of those funds, Inslee noted that more than 60% of the funds went to woman-owned businesses and that just under half went to communities of color. More financial aid could be on the way, the governor alluded, but he did not make any formal announcement. 

“We’ve had good equity in the distribution of those funds and we want to continue that,” Inslee said. “The best way to do that is to listen to people and that involves the equitable group of people here today, by gender and ethnicity and position. We had union leaders and union members here today, we had nurses, and we had people who run the top of organizations. We’ve done all we can to listen to everybody, from top to bottom, and we will continue to do that.”

“It’s really important to do that during this pandemic, it’s always important, but it’s particularly important here because this pandemic has disproportionately affected people who live in poverty and communities of color,” Inslee continued. “Hispanics represent about 13% of the state but about 30% of the infections. The same is true for Black Washingtonians. We have to realize that the virus has been unfair in who it has targeted and we have to respond by making sure that we give assistance to those people who have been targeted by this virus.”

Jay Inslee addresses members of the media at the Federal Way Performing Arts and Event Center. (Photo: Jack Rusillo)

The Governor said that he “would probably have some more announcements in the next week” to address further assistance to those affected by the pandemic, such as an extension of the statewide eviction moratorium and a fund to help people who are undocumented, particularly if they test positive and need to isolate safely. Concerning more small business grants, Inslee said that it was possible more could come, but it would be dependent on help from Congress.

Among other issues the Governor discussed with elected officials was the attempt to increase face-to-face interactions between the local leaders and their constituents, particularly in city council meetings, which would require some creative solutions, Inslee said. The Governor also commended King County businesses’ commitment to ensuring their patrons wear face masks, which he noted was one of the more effective methods of curbing the spread of the virus.

Concerning education, Inslee said that he does not have a specific date for opening in-person education. He said that any specific date announced later would be “science-based.” Education leaders were not present at Friday’s meetings.

The state has distributed guidelines to school districts outlining what needs to be done to open schools safely, but it will be up to local school districts to decide how to enact those guidelines. An ongoing dialogue between principals, teachers, and parents will determine how schools open up, ranging from fully remote options to on-site instruction, to hybrid models. Regardless of how individual institutions open up, Inslee said that they only need to follow the guidelines that the state has mandated. 

New limits to the Governor’s Safe Start plan will go into effect starting Monday, July 20. These include a limit on the number of people allowed at a single social gathering to 10 people in counties that are in Phase 3 of reopening, and limits on gatherings to five people in counties in Phase 2. The newly announced plan also prohibits all live entertainment (including drive-in concerts, comedy shows, and music performances), indoor or outdoor, across the state.

Jack Russillo is a Seattle-based journalist living in the Beacon Hill neighborhood.

Featured image by Gage Skidmore.