OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday morning declared new restrictions on people visiting long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, to reduce the spread and danger of the new coronavirus.
The restrictions will limit long-term care residents to one visitor per day, excluding end-of-life situations.
Visitors must be screened for symptoms of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, according to the new measures. Staff at those facilities will also have to be screened at the beginning of each shift.
The new restrictions are intended to protect older people and those with underlying medical conditions, who are most vulnerable to complications from COVID-19, Inslee said in a news conference.
Long-term care facilities have been in the spotlight as Kirkland's Life Care Center emerged at the heart of Washington's initial outbreak. Most of the deaths confirmed so far in this state have been associated with the Kirkland nursing home.
The new rules cover about 55,000 residents of places like nursing homes or assisted-living facilities, said Cheryl Strange, secretary of the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).
Inslee also announced measures to make sure Washington workers who must quarantine or isolate themselves can get unemployment benefits if they don't have access to paid sick leave.
The governor on Tuesday didn't announce any mandatory "social distancing" measures designed to slow the spread of the virus but said he is considering such decisions, which could include restricting large gatherings or involuntarily isolating people who are sick.
"But don't be surprised when we're back here in a day," said Inslee, when asked about when mandatory measures might be announced.
That approach has also been discussed, but not yet implemented, in Seattle and King County.
As of Monday afternoon, at least 22 people in Washington were known to have died of COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus. Officials have confirmed 162 cases across eight counties. Of those, 116 are in King County and 37 are in Snohomish County.
But the governor has cited genetic modeling by the University of Washington that suggests the real number of cases in the state could be much higher -- around 1,000 -- and could grow rapidly if left unchecked.