House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, and Senate Minority Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, on Wednesday voiced disappointment and frustration with Gov. Jay Inslee’s announcement that enhanced coronavirus-related restrictions would be extended a week.
The joint statement from the GOP leaders in the Legislature came after Inslee announced the extension to his “Stay Safe, Stay Healthy” proclamation, which prohibits all indoor social gatherings for people outside of their households, instills restrictions on indoor dining for bars and restaurants, instills service restrictions on many other businesses, and limits outdoor gatherings to five people from outside their households.
No changes aside from the expiration date were made, according to Inslee’s office. The restrictions are set to tentatively expire on Jan. 11.
“I’m disappointed in the governor’s decision,” said Wilcox, a 2nd Legislative District lawmaker, in a statement. “State government continues to focus on how it can shut employers down instead of how it can help them survive. These extended statewide restrictions will take us up to the beginning of the legislative session. That day can’t come soon enough.”
Wilcox added Republicans will have solutions ready at the helm, and said he hopes lawmakers from across the aisle can “share our sense of urgency and understand immediate actions need to be taken.”
Braun, who represents the 20th Legislative District, was critical in his examination of Inslee’s extension, saying “Why wait another week? Why punish small businesses that have gone to great expense, at a time when they can least afford it, to comply with safety measures by crushing any hope they have of saving their livelihoods?”
“The governor should work with, rather than against, these businesses, many of which are family owned. He should trust them to do the right thing — none of them want their customers to get sick,” Braun later said.
Since March, when COVID-19 first hit Washington state — and subsequently spread across the rest of the United States — House and Senate Republicans have voiced criticism of Inslee’s unilateral proclamations to curb the spread of the virus and have pushed for a special legislative session, both of which have received little acknowledgement from the state’s executive.
Washington state Republicans have also voiced criticism of the data Inslee has presented.
“I’ve said before that Washingtonians can work through hard challenges, but the goal posts keep getting moved further and further away,” Braun said. “Many people feel that the targets needed to reduce isolation are arbitrary and unachievable and that the governor will just let them languish indefinitely.”
But the clash between the governor and Republicans leaders also comes at a critical point in the pandemic. As vaccines are being distributed to Washington’s health care workers and most vulnerable, hospitals statewide and intensive care units remain under stress as the pandemic enters its 10th month.
While cases have waned, likely due to a testing slowdown around the holiday season, hospitalizations remain at an all-time high over the last month and deaths remain steady.
On Tuesday, the state Department of Health reported 2,201 new COVID-19 cases and 174 new deaths. The number of confirmed cases of the virus now stands at 232,993, hospitalizations stand at 14,571 and cumulative deaths are at 3,420.
According to Inslee’s office, a plan is currently being developed to provide a pathway for businesses to reopen. It’s expected sometime next week.
“Our consistent mission has been keeping Washingtonians safe and ensuring health care system and hospital capacity,” Inslee said in a statement. “We understand the profound impact COVID is having on our health care system, families, and businesses, but I am heartened by the number of Washingtonians who continue to do the right thing.
“If we continue distancing from others, wearing facial coverings and avoiding social gatherings, we will make it to the other side of this pandemic together,” he continued.