popping Champagne with a Christmas tree in the background

Keep it intimate this year.

It's still too early to tell if we behaved ourselves, social distancing-wise, over Thanksgiving weekend, Washington officials said on Tuesday. Coronavirus case counts have fluctuated in King County and statewide since Turkey Day. Though a New York Times survey found that our state would stay home the most on the holiday, nobody can know for certain if that actually happened.

It's not too early, however, to give families and business owners some information that could affect their upcoming holiday plans. With Covid-19 hospitalizations reaching higher levels than at any point in the pandemic thus far, governor Jay Inslee announced yesterday that the state would extend its current social and economic restrictions through January 4, or three weeks after their original expiration date. We may not have to abide by the rules that long. “It is possible that we would be able to recalibrate before then if we have significant improvement," Inslee said, "but we don’t know enough yet about the pandemic’s course and trajectory." Either way, nobody should make plans to pop bubbly with several quaran-teams this year.

As a refresher, the current restrictions mandate a 14-day quarantine, or a seven-day quarantine coupled with a negative test, to gather indoors with people from other households. Outdoor gatherings are limited to five people from outside the household. Indoor dining is banned; while Inslee stressed that the vast majority of businesses are following the rules, he noted that disobedient restaurants face a potential $9,000-per-day fine for serving folks indoors.

To help out workers, the state announced that Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits won't end later this month for Washingtonians even if that other Washington can't come to an agreement on a new stimulus package by 2021. Business owners can also apply for Working Washington grants of up to $20,000. The state added $50 million to its fund, and it will prioritize businesses, such as restaurants, most affected by the shutdown.

How is the governor making his decisions when it comes to these restrictions? Inslee said that hospitalization numbers, including ICU admissions and bed occupancies, weigh more heavily on him than case counts; according to the state, nearly 80 percent of ICU beds are filled across Washington, a figure that imperils care for more than just Covid-19 patients. While case tallies can be subject to test-taking behavior or, as this week demonstrated, duplication, hospitalizations reflect infections that are too severe to be doubted or ignored.

The good news is that vaccines are on the way. Health care workers will begin receiving them in December; and long-term care residents and staff can also call initial dibs. The general population will likely start receiving them this coming spring.

That means the greatest gift Washingtonians can give each other this holiday season is patience, or its upshot: as Inslee put it, "life itself."

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