Businesses and King County push for COVID-19 relief, vaccine readiness

KING COUNTY, Wash. — The first COVID-19 vaccine doses may be available by the first quarter of the year. But King County’s public health officer said the county isn’t ready.

“We are really, really hurting with the ability to do the type of advanced planning that we would like to do,” Dr. Jeff Duchin told the King County Health Board.

Also, today, a letter was sent by 20 chief executives of the state’s biggest companies, including Alaska Airlines, Boeing, Expedia, Costco, Microsoft and Starbucks.

It’s addressed to Gov. Jay Inslee and the top legislative leaders from both political parties.

It calls on them to act now to provide more financial support for small businesses and individual workers to help them survive the pandemic.

Former Gov. Christine Gregoire leads the group called Challenge Seattle.

“We’ve got to help our lower-income folks who literally are having to choose between go to work and provide for their family or stay at home — even though they test positive or have symptoms.”

The group is also pushing to open schools to children from kindergarten to fifth grade in January — if the COVID-19 numbers allow.

“We can’t afford to keep our schools closed. The long-term impacts are going to be devastating to some of these children. So open them safely. Let’s go in January.”

The letter also calls for money and planning to distribute COVID-19 vaccines and persuade the public to get the shots.

So is the letter a criticism of Inslee?

“We are not criticizing the governor. Uh, in fact, we are very encouraged by what he’s done by setting aside $50 million to help those businesses who would otherwise go out of business, but we need more.”

Still, King County is waiting for the money it needs to prepare for the vaccine.

“I’ve commented that, you know, the vaccine was developed — that’s Operation Warp Speed — but the public health capacity to deliver this vaccine is proceeding at Operation Status Quo,” Dr. Duchin said.

The State Health Department reported it has a massive effort to plan for the vaccine already underway and is encouraging health care providers to enroll in the program.

Inslee sent a letter of his own to Congress today. He asked Congress to resume negotiations on a COVID-19 relief package right away.

He wants aid for state and local governments, small businesses and direct payments to individuals.