OLYMPIA — The actions Washington took during the COVID-19 pandemic worked to save lives and keep businesses and schools open, but more is still needed to get the country out of the pandemic, Gov. Jay Inslee told Congress on Thursday.
Inslee joined other state and city leaders in testifying to the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis about their response to the omicron variant. Democratic Governor Jared Polis of Colorado and Democratic Pedro Pierluisi of Puerto Rico; D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts, of Nebraska, all discussed what actions are still needed to slow the spread of the virus.
The hearing and governors’ comments drew criticism from Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, and other Republican members of the subcommittee, who claimed some governments have been too heavy-handed in mandates and vaccine strategy.
But Inslee said Washington has used three principles when dealing with the COVID-19 virus: science and public health experts; saving lives; and suppressing the virus to safely reopen the economy.
“Did those strategies work? They worked big time,” he told members of the committee.
Washington faced the country’s first COVID-19 outbreak, having seen the first case of the virus two years ago on Friday.
Inslee pointed to the state’s use of masking and vaccines, what he called the most effective measures.
Washington implemented a statewide mask mandate in June 2020. Besides several weeks last summer when the mandate was lifted, it has been in place ever since. He said the mask mandate was the most effective action the state has taken. Inslee announced earlier this month the state would give 10 million free N95 and KN95 masks to local communities through schools, governments and health departments.
All testifiers said the vaccine was the most effective way to fight the virus.
Inslee pointed to the state’s vaccination rate. More than 74 percent of those 12 and older are considered fully vaccinated, according to the Department of Health. Inslee also mentioned the state’s vaccination requirement for state employees, health care workers and educators.
McMorris Rodgers submitted a statement to the committee criticizing Inslee’s work during the pandemic, specifically his decision to implement a mask mandate for K-12 schools.
“The response to COVID-19 in Washington State will have devastating consequences for our children’s and state’s future,” her statement read.
She also said school closures have kept students out of the classroom “for too long,” leading to learning loss and lower test scores. Inslee has said keeping schools open remains a top priority in the coming months of the pandemic.
She said the government response to the pandemic has led to a nationwide labor shortage, including in the health care sector.
All governors testifying Thursday pushed the federal government for more funding for health care and nurses as there is a shortage nationwide.
Inslee called on the federal government to help pay for more nurses, health care workers and the behavioral health response needed after the pandemic.
Washington’s most urgent challenges are testing availability and overburdened hospitals, Inslee said.
Washington recently has increased its at-home testing supply with an online portal available to residents as soon as this weekend, according to the Department of Health. Inslee announced last week the state was pausing all nonemergency procedures in hospitals and sending 100 National Guard members to hospitals across the state. Hospitalizations have soared across Washington with the omicron variant, and continued staffing shortages have left many hospitals in a crisis.