Gov. Jay Inslee says there are some signs that measures taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are making progress, though a current two-week order shuttering businesses and banning gatherings might be extended to keep up the effort.
During Inslee’s first press conference since the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order went into full effect, the governor gave an update on statewide efforts to stymie the increase of cases of COVID-19. He was heartened by the number of businesses statewide reaching out to state government on how to be in compliance with the order that has largely shut down industry deemed non-essential for at least two weeks.
“Washingtonians know what it is to work together. We know what it is to overcome challenges,” Inslee said.
Inslee acknowledged that anxiety in the state was “understandably high,” though he reiterated that “we may be hunkered down, but we are not locked down,” noting that individuals could leave their homes for a walk or a drive as long as they practiced social distancing procedures.
Though the majority of the outbreak had been in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties, Inslee stressed that the disease was still spreading and remained a statewide threat.
“Whatever we are seeing in Seattle today could be in Walla Walla fairly shortly, in Port Angeles, in Centralia,” Inslee said.
Inslee noted that the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order could be extended as a way to prevent a resurgence in COVID-19 should it be lifted prematurely. As of the press conference, Inslee said there had been 2,580 confirmed cases and 132 deaths in Washington state. Of those cases, 90 percent of deaths following COVID-19 diagnosis were 60 years old and older, with half over 80.
Though he said Washington was “not even close to the end of this battle” against COVID-19, Inslee shared some signs that previous efforts may be making a difference. He pointed to data showing a decline in the rate of increased incidence of the disease in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties.
“That ought to give us a commitment to the things we are doing today,” Inslee said, explaining that actions taken weeks ago could have led to the results in the data.
He later added that the signs in the Puget Sound area weren’t necessarily reflective of the state as a whole, stressing continued efforts even with data showing progress.
“We cannot let up on this virus even if we get to a point where there’s continuation of reducing the rate of increase,” Inslee said. “We have to hammer this until we can be assured that it will not spring back up.”
“We need our economy to come back as fast as possible, and the way to do this is to eliminate this virus in our state,” Inslee said.
He pointed to a number of efforts for financial relief, including a $1.8 million authorized by the Department of Commerce for grants to rural counties for COVID-19 response and allowance of retail stores to conduct remote business via mail. He added he also authorized the waiver of late payment penalties on businesses overseen by the state Liquor and Cannabis Board.
Inslee lauded Congress’ passage of a $2 trillion stimulus bill, which he said would benefit families, businesses and hospitals across the state. The bill was especially important given an 843 percent increase in unemployment insurance claims in the past week at about 133,000 claims.
Those claims were five times faster coming in than at any time during the Great Recession, Inslee said.
Inslee said the stimulus bill significantly expanded access and the amount of unemployment insurance people will receive, including to part-time and gig economy workers.
The governor said he was still exploring an option to expand the insurance to workers in essential industries whose age or health put them at risk of complications from COVID-19, still determining whether executive action would allow an order or if he needed to call back the Washington State Legislature to make the adjustment.
Inslee said he spoke to President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence about the need for additional resources this morning. Though he was appreciative of federal help in getting personal protective equipment, he expressed concerns over the long-term ability to receive needed resources.
“We need a national system of procurement,” Inslee said, adding that currently it was a “mad scramble” for each state to get a hold of supplies.
Regarding other federal support, Inslee said he was told by FEMA that additional field hospital facilities were on their way, adding that the Army Corps of Engineers was looking at sites for additional surge capacity.
Inslee said Washington would need a significant increase in medical personnel to handle the outbreak, calling on retired health care workers to consider rejoining the workforce to join the response.
“This could make all the difference in the world,” Inslee said.
Though the state’s hospital system was not overwhelmed as of the press conference, “it is absolutely necessary that we increase our hospital capacity or we will be overwhelmed.”