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Inmates protest coronavirus conditions, Seattle parks to close, and more record unemployment claims

People incarcerated in Washington state prisons are expressing concerns about the spread of the coronavirus in their facilities. Gov. Jay Inslee addressed the issue on Thursday.

With more on this and other top stories of the day, KUOW’s Paige Browning brought us this update.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Congress failed to pass a bill that would have added a lot more money to the small business loan program. It got stuck in a partisan policy debate.

We have new unemployment numbers. 17 million Americans were left out of work in the past three weeks. In Washington state, 300,000 people lost their jobs during that time.

Inmates are speaking out in Washington. They held a demonstration at Monroe Correctional Complex last night.

And, Seattle's biggest parks are going to close this weekend.

Gov. Inslee spoke about Covid-19 in our prison system today. What did he have to say?

Inslee says state officials are working now to possibly release some inmates who are nonviolent, lower level offenders. They're also looking for ways to spread inmates out in the facilities once they've freed up some space by possibly releasing other people. Inslee says the policy of who could get early release is still being worked out.

Here's how he describes who might be sent home:

“Generally, we're looking at nonviolent offenders who are nearing their appropriate release date who, because of age or health conditions, have a higher risk of potentially contracting the disease and having a fatal result.”

He says they are keeping the majority of people in custody, and that the state has a duty to protect public safety.

This seems to be a slight change in policy, weeks after the Covid-19 outbreak began. What's different now?

Inmate advocates have ramped up pressure on the state of Washington, for one. We saw this incident at the Monroe Correctional Complex last night, where more than 100 inmates acted out.

There's a lawsuit today saying the state is not properly protecting the prison population from Covid-19. Columbia Legal Services filed a legal challenge. Their argument is that the World Health Organization recommends reducing the number of people behind bars. They say the state hasn't taken action to do that just yet.

We got a new look today at additional unemployment figures. How many people are getting unemployment benefits in our state right now?

Not nearly as many as have applied for benefits — at least not yet. This is a situation that we knew would get worse. Here's the evidence that it has.

The statewide jobless numbers that just came out today show another 170,000 people applied for unemployment in Washington just last week.

Doing some math, a half a million people have lost jobs and filed for claims in Washington since we started mandating the social distancing. As of last week, about 180,000 of those had actually been processed, with people getting those benefits.

Seattle's Mayor Jenny Durkan says big Seattle parks are going to be closed this weekend. Why?

In short, it's a place people are still gathering. City officials are worried they'll be a magnet for people this upcoming sunny weekend. I was at Volunteer Park this morning. As you can expect on a sunny day, a lot of walkers, a lot of joggers were out. That park's going to close, as will Alki, Lincoln Park, Seward Park, and overall the 15 biggest parks in the city.

Durkan keeps having to make these pleas that people need to follow social distancing orders. Here's what she said to KUOW today:

“People have to understand that this really is a very different time. And it's a matter of life and death. And so, if you are going out and you're seeing that there's dozens and dozens and dozens of people walking in the same route, you shouldn't be there — and I know that's super hard. But really, people should be staying home. It's the only tool we have to break the back of this virus.”

For now: stay home, wash your hands.

Listen to the interview by clicking the play button above.