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Coronavirus In Seattle
caption: Washington Gov. Jay Inslee speaks before signing a measure that puts the state on track to create the first 'public option' health insurance in the US, Monday, May 13, 2019, in Olympia, Wash.
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Washington Gov. Jay Inslee speaks before signing a measure that puts the state on track to create the first 'public option' health insurance in the US, Monday, May 13, 2019, in Olympia, Wash.
Credit: AP Photo/Rachel La Corte

New protections on the way for essential workers during COVID-19 emergency, Inslee says

Gov. Jay Inslee says he is working on new state measures that would add protections for workers over the age of 65, and those with underlying health conditions during Washington's COVID-19 outbreak.

"If you are in one of these vulnerable groups, I want to see to it that you have the right to stay home and protect yourself," Inslee said during a Friday afternoon press conference.

While numerous employers have turned to teleworking setups and various businesses have suspended in-house services, many essential workers — such as grocery store clerks, health care workers, and first responders — have been reporting for shifts in-person, putting them at an increased risk of exposure to the coronavirus.

Inslee said he wants to ensure the workers in question would be able to return to work without penalty once the outbreak blows over. State officials are in the process of determining whether that could be done via an executive order or legislative action.

In the meantime, the governor is calling on employers to act in ways that protect the health of their employees.

"So, employers have got to do their part to help flatten this curve, and employers are encouraged to use all possible tools to offer high risk employees," Inslee said. "Flexible options for telework and alternate job tasks, or administrative leave, in order to maintain worker pay and benefits through this difficult time."

Inslee also addressed reports of groups continuing to congregate, in disregard of social distancing policies. He said he hoped social responsibility would prevail, but that he'd ramp up official mandates if called for.

"We are still seeing people behaving as if this virus was not a mortal threat to people in this state," he said. "Although I laid out orders last week for people to stop eating in restaurants and going to bars and other gathering places ... we are still seeing people ignoring both these orders and common sense about what it takes to protect our loved ones."

The governor also issued a reminder that his executive orders are enforceable by law, and violators could be subject to prosecution.

"Technically it's a crime to violate any of these rules," he said. "But it's a moral crime, in my book, to put other people at risk."