OLYMPIA — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said Wednesday the state has to see more progress in several areas, including the daily number of new coronavirus cases and deaths, before social distancing restrictions can safely be lifted.
At a news conference, Inslee confirmed the state’s stay-at-home order that was enacted March 23 would remain in place beyond May 4 and said he would have more details Friday “on the phased-in approach about how we will open our economy in a safe way.”
Inslee showed a series of slides to explain the daily, and sometimes hourly, metrics state officials are looking at, ranging from the number of hospitalizations to the current transmission rate in King County to projections for increases in cases if social distancing efforts were ended today.
Inslee said the quickest way to restart the economy is to make sure that “we get this job done.” He warned that lifting his order too soon could lead to a spike in new cases that would require reinstating restrictions.
“We do not want to go through this pain again,” he said.
Since last Friday, Inslee has announced the easing of some restrictions, including the resumption of existing construction projects, and allowing day use activities at state parks and some outdoor recreation like hunting, golfing and fishing. On Wednesday, he announced that some non-urgent surgeries could also resume, something state medical groups had urged him to do.
But he said while he knows people are eager to go back to work and for non-essential businesses to reopen, “we still can’t do that for many of our folks safely.”
Inslee said several elements are at play in his decision making, and that all of them need to see reduced risk: disease activity, health care system readiness, testing capacity and availability, an increase in case and contact investigations once a case is confirmed and risk to vulnerable populations, like those in assisted living facilities.
On the issue of testing, Inslee said the state is currently averaging 4,650 tests a day. They want to be doing more than 22,000 a day, but currently lack the necessary supplies.
The Democratic governor said he has been told by the federal government that the state would receive enough swabs to quadruple the current testing in the next week or two.
“I am very hopeful that that comes through,” he said.
Dr. Kathy Lofy, state health officer, said once testing increases, they will have a better sense of the true progress the state is making on all of the other factors that they are monitoring daily.
“I know this is frustrating for people, they want an exact number and what we need to get to,” she said. “It’s not as easy as that, we need to look at multiple things. ”
Republican House Minority leader J.T. Wilcox, who has warned that the public might start losing motivation to comply with the stay-at-home order without more specifics from the governor, posted on Facebook after Inslee’s news conference, writing that it “served an important purpose and I’m glad he gave it.”
“I know that everyone wants to hear about getting back to work,” Wilcox wrote. “I hope he is as clear soon about the way back for that. He explained the foundation today.”
More than 14,000 people in Washington state have tested positive for the virus, which causes mild to moderate symptoms in most patients. While the vast majority recover, the coronavirus is highly contagious and can be spread by those who appear healthy and can cause severe illness and death in some patients, particularly the elderly and those with underlying health conditions. At least 801 people in the state have died of COVID-19.
“I don’t think we should become inured to death,” Inslee said. “Each one of these numbers is a person.”