OLYMPIA, Wash. — Gov. Jay Inslee gave more insight about how Washington state will eventually reopen its economy amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Inslee addressed the public on Tuesday evening, thanking Washingtonians for respecting the stay-home order issued to help stop the spread of the virus.
“We know this crisis has shaken all of us,” Inslee said.
He also said State Health Officer Dr. Katy Lofy informed him that the spread of COVID-19 is “likely declining” in the state.
However, Inslee said the economy will reopen gradually, and not all at once.
“It will look more like the turning of a dial than the flipping of a switch,” Inslee said.
Mobile users, click here to watch Gov. Inslee's press conference in full.
What Inslee said has to happen to start reopening the state
Inslee said the state will not be able to lift most of the restrictions by May 4, which is when the current order is scheduled to expire, but didn’t name a date to which the order would be extended.
“We will not be able to lift many of the restrictions by May 4, and we will let you know when we can lift those restrictions as soon as we know,” Inslee said.
The governor said he hopes data will let them lift certain restrictions sooner than others, such as allowing more outdoor recreation. He also said he had met and came to agreements with construction companies and unions to develop a plan to allow limited returns to construction with certain distancing restrictions in place.
He also said he will modify orders if the data suggests its safe to do so, but current data shows that a full-lifting of restrictions would lead to a rise in the spread of the virus.
“We need healthy people to build a healthy economy,” Inslee said.
The first thing that will need to happen before widespread reopening is the formation of a team to do contact training for possible and confirmed coronavirus cases along with widespread testing, he said.
He compared this team to a fire brigade in terms of rapid response times, much like he has in the past. As for the team working on contact tracing, Inslee said it would be made up of about 1,500 workers by the second week of May, and would include health care workers, volunteers and national guard members.
This widespread testing would need to hit 20-30,000 tests a day in Washington, Inslee said, which hasn’t been possible yet due to multiple barriers stopping the procurement of testing kit supplies.
Inslee said he sent a letter to Vice President Mike Pence expressing his concerns about testing.
“Governors are not wrong on this, both Republicans and Democrats,” Inslee said of calls for more testing supply production.
Inslee said industries will have to make changes and work with restrictions until a COVID-19 vaccine is developed and rolled out. These guidelines will include increased distancing in workplaces, extensive cleaning and having the proper equipment for all employees to stay safe.
The governor also said that the state needs to make sure people have proper, safe housing as Washington moves forward through the pandemic. In addition to this, the state ill need to provide mental health and substance abuse resources for people struggling due to the pandemic and the subsequent stay-home orders.
“The reality we need to be aware of is simply this: We will need to be able to steer ourselves away from this for quite sometime,” Inslee said.
The governor also said the pandemic has shown disparities in communities that will cause some families to not recover as quickly as others. Due to this, he said, investments will need to be accelerated and innovation will be needed to help the economy.
Inslee also touched on the rise in virtual communication in businesses, education and personal lives, saying that it will continue to be needed.
To help decide on when different restrictions can be lifted, Inslee said he is appointing three different groups to help guide decision. These groups will look at areas such as public health, passing orders for the safe return to work, economic recovery and reopening, and ensuring the availability of necessary health resources.
Response to local resistance
Some local leaders in Washington have expressed resistance to the continued stay-at-home order, saying the reopening process should be localized to match the extent of the virus in each region.
However, state officials were resistant to that notion on Tuesday. On a call with reporters, leaders including Inslee's Chief of Staff David Postman and State Health Officer Kathy Lofy explained that regional re-openings could cause new surges of the virus thanks to travel.
They also pointed out some smaller towns have already struggled with an influx of people fleeing larger cities in Washington to go to vacation homes. There's concern if some areas were allowed to open early, there could be excessive migration or tourism to those places, causing a variety of problems.
In Franklin County, commissioners have already gone as far to attempt to outwardly disobey the governor's order. Postman told KREM such attempts are illegal, and the governor's office will be informing Frankling County and others of that fact.
"Local governments can be stricter than the state if they choose. They can't be looser than the state," said Postman. "The law doesn't allow it."