Virus Activity and Safe Start Phases

COVID-19 cases hitting plateau in some areas of the state
The Aug. 28 COVID-19 Situation Report published by the Department of Health offered some encouragement. The effective reproductive numbers for eastern and western Washington are currently just below 1.0. The new case rate per 100,000 residents has reduced from a late-July peak of 148 to 95.9, although this number is still considered “high virus activity”. Limiting gatherings, wearing masks, and keeping physical distance from others remain the most effective means to limit COVID-19 transmission.

Where are current outbreaks?
The state Risk Assessment Dashboard maps statewide virus activity metrics.  As of Aug. 15, eight counties had low, 12 counties had moderate, and 19 counties had high COVID-19 activity. High activity is marked by a new case rate in excess of 75 new cases per 100,000 residents. The statewide test positivity rate is 3.6%. 29 of 39 Washington counties are above the state goal of 2%.

Are there any new Safe Start guidance updates this week?
We have several updated documents this week. Indoor Fitness (and the FAQs) clarified that capacity limits for Phase 2 counties will be measured using 300 square feet per person and 200 square feet per person in Phase 3 counties. For large facilities (>12,000 sq ft), capacity is still limited to 25 percent of the facility’s occupancy limit. Agritourism allows for additional activities, including animal viewing, hay/wagon/train rides, use of children’s play equipment, private fire pits/bonfires and outdoor corn mazes/haunted houses in Phase 2 and 3 counties. The Personal Services title was changed to clarify that it applies to both Phase 2 and Phase 3 counties.

What Safe Start Phase is my county in?
The County Status page on identifies the Phase status of all Washington counties. While cases are hitting a plateau in some areas,  COVID-19 continues to be a serious threat in Washington state and counties are on pause from moving ahead in the Safe Start Washington plan until it is safer.

What do the Safe Start Phases mean?
The “What’s Open” page on describes permissible gatherings and business activity in each Safe Start Phase. In addition to the general requirements of each Phase, businesses must abide by any industry-specific guidance issued by the Office of the Governor.

Child Care

Are child care facilities open?
Child care providers are operational. Department of Health guidance for child care settings remains in effect. The document urges reduced interactions outside of the household and staying home when possible. Parents will play an important role in keeping child care centers providers safe by watching for symptoms from their children and limiting their exposure to non-household members. Please refer to the Department of Children, Youth & Families for more information about child care as the state responds to the COVID-19 outbreak.

What child care options are available in my community?
Child Care Aware of Washington operates a free statewide referral line to connect families with vacant child care slots. Call 1-800-446-1114 or contact them here. You can also find information on the DCYF Child Care Aware website. Additionally, many school districts may offer child care once school starts.

What resources are available to help pay for child care? 
The Working Connection Child Care program helps lower-income families and working parents pay for child care. When a family qualifies for benefits and selects an eligible child care provider, the state pays a portion of the cost. The City of Seattle also operates a local child care subsidy program for city residents.

How can employers support workers unable to find child care?
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act requires many employers to pay employees up to 10 weeks of leave at ¾ pay to attend to children if their child care was lost due to impacts from COVID-19 through Dec. 31. The linked page describes which employers are covered under this requirement. To qualify for funding, the individual must have been employed for 30 days prior to taking the leave. Qualified employers can receive a federal tax credit for leave payments.

Employers can offer support to workers with reduced hours through ESD’s Shared Work program, which allows an individual to drop hours up to 50% and remain attached to the employer while receiving partial wage assistance without requirements to seek different employment.

Unemployment Benefits

Additional $300 unemployment benefit payment to be paid to eligible claimants
The state’s application for the Lost Wages Assistance program has been approved. ESD will start processing payments of $300 to eligible claimants for this new program on Monday, Sept. 21. Payments will be retroactive for all weeks for which the claimant was eligible, and for which funding is available from the federal government. Upon the processing date, eligible claimants will receive the funds as soon as their bank processes the payment. Refer to the Employment Security Department website for details.

Job search requirements to remain suspended through Oct. 1
The governor, with support from the Legislature, has announced that job search requirements will remain suspended through Oct. 1. The soonest that unemployment claimants must actively seek work is Oct. 4. Claimants may continue to answer “no” to the job search question on weekly claims until the suspension is lifted. Learn more on the job search requirements page.

Resources for Employers, Small Businesses

Employers looking to hire veterans may attend YesVets virtual hiring event on Sept. 18.
YesVets is a statewide campaign to hire veterans.  From Sept. 14-18, a no-cost YesVets webinar will showcase resources available to employers and information on virtual recruitment. Register for the YesVets Employer Recognition and Resources Showcase to host a virtual booth at the Virtual Hiring Event on Friday, Sept. 18.  There is no cost to attend the showcase or hiring event.

Small business webinars provide up-to-date info, answer live questions
This monthly webinar series presents information specific to Washington small businesses. The series features brief presentations from state and federal partners and open-mic Q&A time. Topics include unemployment insurance, returning employees to work, PPP and EIDL loans, workplace safety, face covering requirements, and other topics important to employers. The next webinar will be held on Sept. 9 at 1:30 p.m.

Local Relief Funding and Rent Assistance

Additional $125 million in CARES Act funds distributed to Washington’s cities and counties
In May, Governor Inslee announced that the state would award $300 million of the state’s federal emergency funding to local governments that did not receive direct distributions under the CARES Act. On Aug. 31, the governor announced an increase of $125 million awarded to local governments for a total of $420 million. Commerce is moving these critical dollars so communities can cover critical expenses arising from the COVID-19 emergency.

Limited funds for Eviction Rent Assistance Program moving quickly
Commerce’s Eviction Rent Assistance program, funded with federal CARES Act dollars, may prevent evictions by paying past due and current/future rent for people in distress. Rental assistance is provided through local housing providers in each community, not directly from Commerce. Over 20 counties have partners established to distribute funds and application periods currently open. Funds are limited. Community members are encouraged to apply as soon as possible. Click here for a full list of currently open application periods.