Washington state governor approves $200 million in coronavirus emergency funds

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[March 18, 2020]  By Dan Whitcomb

(Reuters) - The governor of Washington signed legislation on Tuesday approving $200 million in emergency funds intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus in one of the hardest-hit U.S. states.

Governor Jay Inslee said the money, largely drawn from the state's "rainy day fund," would go toward the response to the outbreak by the state Department of Health as well as "social distancing efforts" and aid to the homeless.

"This bill is really about protecting what we hold most dear, our lives and the lives of our loved ones," Inslee, a Democrat, said at a bill-signing event at his office in the state capital, Olympia.

The measure was approved earlier this week by state lawmakers in Washington, which has over 900 confirmed cases and 48 deaths from the coronavirus. A long-term care facility in the Seattle suburb of Kirkland was the site of one of the nationís first outbreaks.

Inslee conceded it was "very possible" that the state would require even more money to fight the spread of the respiratory illness in the coming weeks and months and said he would not hesitate to call lawmakers into a special session if necessary.

Although Washington was one of the first states to close its school system and ban large gatherings in the face of the worldwide pandemic, officials there have not imposed the kind of firm lockdown on residents seen in such cities as San Francisco.

Inslee said it was possible that he could still issue a "shelter-in-place" order if health experts deemed it the right move.

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 Governor Jay Inslee gestures as he speaks next to King County Executive Dow Constantine during a news conference held to announce measures to combat the spread of novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, in Seattle, Washington, U.S., March 11, 2020. REUTERS/Karen Ducey

"This is a day-to-day situation. We are considering the epidemiology of this epidemic every day or every hour essentially, continually assessing the impact of our social distancing measures," he said. "We can't rule anything in our out."

The number of reported U.S. cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, surged past 5,800 on Tuesday, with at least 98 confirmed deaths. New York, Washington state and California have the most confirmed cases of the highly contagious respiratory illness.

The Trump administration on Tuesday pressed Congress to pass a $1 trillion stimulus package to buttress a U.S. economy hit by coronavirus fears. That legislation could include $1,000 payments to Americans within two weeks.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Culver City, Calif.; Editing by Sandra Maler and Peter Cooney)

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