SEATTLE — The State Supreme Court on Thursday denied a lawsuit that called for the release of a massive portion of Washington State’s prison inmates to protect them from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The justices heard arguments in their separate chambers using Zoom technology to facilitate social distancing.
The justices, in a 5-4 decision, said that the prisoners who had sued failed to show that the Department of Corrections was not properly addressing the risk of COVID-19.
Earlier a lawyer representing the inmates had told the court that people who are incarcerated don’t have the ability to keep themselves safe. A lawyer for the state said some inmates had already been released and face masks have been given out.
Columbia Legal Services had asked for the release of inmates over age 50, those with underlying health issues including pregnancy or mental illness, or inmates who are scheduled for release within the next 18 months, regardless of the crimes they committed.
In their decision, the State Supreme Court said “the petitioners have not shown that the respondents are currently failing to perform a mandatory, nondiscretionary duty in addressing the COVID-19 risk at the Department of Corrections facilities, nor shown other constitutional or statutory grounds for the relief they request.”
Governor Jay Inslee oversaw the release of more than a thousand nonviolent inmates to make room for social distancing in Washington State prisons. Many of the inmates were released from Monroe Correctional Complex, where 12 inmates and seven staff members tested positive for COVID-19.
The latest statewide death toll as reported by the Department of Health had reached 711 deaths among 12,753 confirmed coronavirus cases as of 11:59 p.m. Wednesday.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the counties with the highest totals: King County has 385 deaths among 5,532 cases; Snohomish County has 101 deaths among 2,216 cases; and Pierce County has 44 deaths among 1,192 cases.
• There are at least 12,753 confirmed coronavirus cases with at least 711 deaths in Washington, according to the latest Department of Health numbers as of 11:59 p.m. April 22.
• Thousands of people gathered at in Olympia on Sunday to protest Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home order designed to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
• The Department of Health recalled around 12,000 coronavirus testing kits Saturday night after UW Medicine alerted the state to possible contamination issues.
• On Saturday, the U.S. and Canada agreed to keep the border closed to nonessential travel for another 30 days. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it will be undoubtedly longer before the restriction is removed.
• Some Washington residents can apply for emergency cash assistance, if they aren’t eligible for other programs.
• The White House has released an 18 page package of guidelines to help states re-open businesses shuttered by the Coronavirus outbreak.
• People who have recovered from COVID-19 can now donate their plasma to potentially help develop a treatment for the disease. Learn if you are eligible here and find more out about the local center taking donations here.
• The state plans to release up to 950 inmates early as part of an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus among the prison population.
• All K-12 schools will remain physically closed for the remainder of the school year. The state’s more than 1.2 million public and private K-12 students will continue distance learning until the end of June.
• The state DOH and the CDC are recommending the public wear simple, non-medical cloth masks or face coverings when out in public places where social distancing may not be maintained. Learn how to make your own mask here.
Inslee outlined the "path back to normal" in an address to Washingtonians on Tuesday evening, making it clear that the path to recovery will take months and could halt again if another outbreak occurs.
He said the changes will happen in measured steps as guided by science and public health needs. The path to normal requires: More testing, PPE for everyone who needs it, a COVID-19 vaccine, contact tracing capabilities and adequate capacity in hospitals.
Until then, the state is focused on preventing another outbreak. The next steps presented by Inslee had three main components:
1) Protect the health and safety of Washingtonians
Wide scale, rapid testing is key to identifying those who have been exposed, Inslee said. The state must have the ability to effectively isolate and quarantine those who have tested positive and the hospital space and supplies to treat those with coronavirus.
2) Facilitate a safe start and transition to economic recovery
Inslee said that workplaces will continue to look and operate differently, and continued physical distancing and teleworking will be necessary. Businesses will be reopened slowly and deliberately.
3) Support all people and communities
Because the coronavirus pandemic affected nearly all aspects of daily life, Inslee emphasized the important of increased social and emotional supports, food and housing security and support for education and child care.
The Senate on Tuesday approved a nearly $500 billion coronavirus aid bill after Congress reached an agreement with President Donald Trump.
The measure would replenish a small business rescue program, provide hospitals with another $75 billion, and implement a nationwide virus testing program to facilitate reopening the economy.
Trump has announced his support, saying he’ll sign the bill if it passes both chambers. The package now goes to the House.
Most of the funding, more than $300 billion, would go to boost a small-business payroll loan program that ran out of money last week.
Symptoms of the coronavirus include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Patients reportedly have mild to severe respiratory illness. These are steps health officials recommend to protect yourself:
• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
• Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
• Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then throw the tissue in the trash and wash your hands.
• Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces.
• Stay at home and away from others if you are feeling ill.
• Washington State Department of Health: What to do if you have confirmed or suspected coronavirus disease
• Washington State Department of Health: What to do if you were potentially exposed to someone with confirmed coronavirus disease
• If you are in King County and believe you were exposed to a confirmed case of COVID-19, or if you’re a healthcare provider with questions about COVID-19, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
• For general concerns and questions about COVID-19, call the Washington State Novel Coronavirus Call Center at 800-525-0127 and press #.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.