Trump issues virus disaster declaration for Washington state

A sign on a play structure in Seattle on Sunday March 22, 2020, informs people the play area is closed. Seattle has shut down all playgrounds in the city to try to stop the spread of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Chris Grygiel)

President Donald Trump on Sunday issued a “major disaster” declaration for Washington state over the novel coronavirus crisis, freeing up some federal assistance — but Gov. Jay Inslee countered that the president’s announcement was not enough to bolster the state’s fight against the pandemic.

“The president’s action makes federal funding available for crisis counseling for affected individuals in all areas in the state of Washington,” Trump’s declaration said.

Inslee had asked Trump to declare a major disaster on Friday, saying that could bring federal aid. As part of that request, he sent the president a 74-page letter detailing exactly what the state would need to fortify its response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Crisis counseling was only one of the requests.

The others included: disaster unemployment assistance, disaster legal services, disaster case management, individual and household program assistance, voluntary agency coordination, plus mass care and emergency assistance.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Health on Sunday confirmed 203 additional cases and one additional death from COVID-19.

A man in his 80s died at Overlake Medical Center on March 13, Public Health-Seattle & King County confirmed.

The newly released numbers bring the total of confirmed cases in Washington to 1,996, including 95 deaths. The additional death occurred in King County, where 75 people have died. There are 1,040 confirmed cases in King County.

Trump also said Sunday he’d ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency to ship mobile hospital centers to the hard-hit states of Washington, California and New York.

Also, Inslee named retired Navy Vice Admiral Raquel C. Bono as director for the state’s COVID-19 Health System Response Management.

She is a senior fellow with the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory As the former chief executive officer and director for the Defense Health Agency, Bono led a joint, integrated support agency that enabled all branches of the U.S. military medical services to provide health care to people in combat. Inslee’s appointment was effective immediately.

Aside from crisis counseling and mental-health training, Inslee spokesperson Mike Faulk said, the rest of the governor’s requests of the federal government “remain under review by the White House.”

“We appreciate that the federal government has recognized the severity of the public-health emergency in Washington state,” Inslee said in a statement.

“However, today’s declaration does not unlock many forms of federal assistance we have requested to help workers and families who are badly hurting,” Inslee said. “We will continue working with our federal partners to deliver the full suite of disaster assistance that is sorely needed in our state, such as expanded benefits for workers who lose their paychecks as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.”

The state’s unemployment system, for example, has been inundated with claims. Last week, the state’s Employment Security Department released stark numbers: 500,000 users of the agency’s website (esd.wa.gov) over a two-day span that would normally see 30,000 users; and 19,250 phone calls in a single day, an 827 percent jump from the same day the previous week.

For the week of March 14, unemployment claims by workers at accommodation and food-and-drink businesses jumped nearly 600 percent from the previous week. (Per federal reporting guidelines, ESD’s data usually has a seven- to 10-day lag.)

Washington has other pressing concerns: Last week, King County identified a soccer field in Shoreline to serve as a temporary, 200-bed field hospital for those unable to isolate and recover from COVID-19. State hospital workers have been making protective medical masks from office supplies. Due to the expected economic fallout, Inslee ordered a statewide, 30-day moratorium on evictions.

King County Executive Dow Constantine said some federal assistance is better than none. “We need all hands on deck,” he said. “Though the federal government has struggled, anything that will help people survive, pay rent, put food on the table and soldier on will be welcome.”

But Inslee’s response to Trump’s statement about funds for counseling services struck a more dire tone: “The state urgently requires additional federal emergency assistance in order to save lives, protect public health and safety, and limit further spread of the disease.”

Details about the timing and amount of money Washington might receive as a result of Trump’s declaration were not immediately available.

Meanwhile, a Boeing worker who came down with the virus has died, the first death among the infected employees. Co-workers and a union official who confirmed his death said the man was an inspector who worked on the 787 Dreamliner in Everett.

On Saturday, while he was still in intensive care, his brother posted a plea to Boeing on Facebook.

“Boeing Everett plant, please close your doors and shut down,” his brother wrote, adding that the man had worked at Boeing for 27 years.

Material from The Associated Press was included in this report.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.