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$200 million in COVID-19 emergency funding approved for Washington state

caption: Gov. Jay Inslee plans to sign five different bills in response to Washington state's COVID-19 outbreak on Tuesday, March 17, 2020.
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Gov. Jay Inslee plans to sign five different bills in response to Washington state's COVID-19 outbreak on Tuesday, March 17, 2020.
Washington State Governor's Office

Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday signed several new laws in response to the Washington state coronavirus outbreak.

The measures authorize millions in financial aid for government agencies and federally recognized tribes responding to COVID-19, as well as businesses impacted by mandatory shutdowns.

A key law signed by Inslee provides $175 million from the state's so-called Rainy Day Fund for local governments and state agencies. The bill allows the distribution of $25 million in federal funding to local governments and federally recognized tribes responding to the disease.

The bipartisan bill also authorizes $25 million in assistance for businesses that have been financially impacted by mandatory social distancing orders.

READ: Restaurants, bars, fitness studios to close in WA, and events capped at 50 due to COVID-19

The law in question is also aimed at increasing patient capacity at hospitals and it expands COVID-19 testing at the University of Washington, Inslee said.

"This bill is really about protecting what we hold most dear — our lives and the lives of our loved ones," he said during a Tuesday afternoon briefing.

Another law signed today is intended to increase hospitals' surge capacity to accommodate an influx of patients. The measure lessens credentialing delays for health care workers entering the workforce, and addresses some insurance billing technicalities for health care providers.

A fourth bill that landed on Inslee's desk allows hourly school staff to keep their health care insurance eligibility during mandatory school closures. And employees who might otherwise lose eligibility due to COVID-19 impacts can keep their benefits through the rest of the school year, under the bill.

A separate bill targeted at school employees permits the use of shared leave for those who are compelled to self-quarantine due to COVID-19 infection or exposure.

In regard to COVID-19 testing, Inslee announced that the federal Food and Drug Administration has authorized state officials to validate private laboratories' testing protocols.

"And when we do that, that that's gonna help the whole country so that these labs can move forward," Inslee said. "We're pleased to provide that service to the nation in our lab."

The governor also said President Donald Trump had agreed to change the prioritization of the federal stockpile of medical equipment at state officials' request. Inslee pointed to a previously used quota-based system that prevented some states from collecting necessary resources.

"So this change in the priority system we think will help us accelerate the replenishing of our state stockpile for masks and gloves and everything else we need from the federal stockpile," he said. "We think this is going to give us a better situation, so we can respond to the outbreak here in Washington state."

Inslee also announced new restrictions on visits to long-term care facilities. State orders have been amended to ban all visitors to the facilities, with the exception of those visiting residents during end-of-life scenarios and legal professionals representing residents. The ban is to remain in effect until April 9.

Additionally, the governor has ordered the suspension of vision tests for people applying for Washington state driver licenses until April 15. The action is intended to mitigate the transmission of the coronavirus via vision screening tools.

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