Turning the state's recovery dial
Inslee announces some recovery steps; chief of staff addresses moves to defy state closure restrictions
April 23, 2020
OLYMPIA – Praising Washingtonians for their efforts in what appears to be a slowing of the spread of the COVID-19 disease, Gov. Jay Inslee announced some plans to reopen the state’s economy during a televised address Tuesday afternoon, April 21.
In outlining some of the steps needed to reopen, and some specific businesses that could do so, Inslee didn’t directly address recent protests from residents frustrated with the restrictions. He also didn’t reference steps some local jurisdictions have taken to defy the orders and reopen for business — such as the decision by Franklin County’s board of commissioners Tuesday morning after a request made by local businessman Joel Prantle on behalf of county residents “suffering” from business closures and inability to get unemployment’
That was left to his Chief of Staff David Postman to tackle in a post-address press conference.
“We would tell them they don’t have the legal right to do that and will be doing that with Franklin County,” he said. “We are preparing a letter now. It’s really just a wrong-headed approach that doesn’t have the strength of law.”
At Tuesday's meeting, the commission voted unanimously to end recognition of Inslee’s stay at home orders, citing Revised Code of Washington 43.06.220, subsection 4 which states “No order or orders concerning waiver or suspension of statutory obligations or limitations under subsection (2) of this section may continue for longer than thirty days unless extended by the legislature through concurrent resolution.”
The section stipulates that if the Legislature is not in session, the it falls to the leadership of both houses, which includes members of the majority and minority parties, to extend the waiver or suspension by concurrent resolution.
The Legislature adjourned its 60-day session in mid-March and has not met since.
One of the reasons state officials cited for being cautious in easing restrictions, or by allowing individual counties to do so based on the number of confirmed cases, is the virus’s ability to spread rapidly and create infections in large groups of people quickly. This ability created early outbreak hot spots in King and Snohomish counties that almost overwhelmed health facilities.
“We saw early on how the hospitals became overrun and stressed,” Dr. Raquel Bono, director of state’s COVID-19 health care response team said. “We don’t want to see health services overrun again by people being infected by the virus.”
State Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy said another concern was travel. As disease activity decreases in one area, and restrictions are relaxed, individuals from nearby areas of higher activity might travel to those lower-activity areas and thus spread the disease.
In his address, Inslee acknowledged that restrictions on residents, businesses and public areas will likely be extended beyond an announced relaxation date of May 4, but added some activities might be allowed sooner. Three that might are outdoor recreation, elective surgery at hospitals and residential construction.
In the press conference, Postman said hunting and fishing were outdoor activities “in the bucket” for consideration. With regards to residential construction, he said meetings with business and labor leaders had produced a 30-point safety plan for job site operations.
Inslee and those at the press conference stressed that decisions to gradually phase out restrictions and restart the economy would be based on science, not politics and incorporate as much data modeling as possible. One of the models Lofy said the governor focuses on is the University of Washington’s Institute for Disease Modeling’s “effective reproductive rate.”
The model calculates the number of people who could be infected should the come into contact with one already infected individual.
“That’s the number we want to be below one,” she said.
For Washington’s recovery plan to be effective, Inslee said the state needs to have a well-functioning system that can isolate infected individuals quickly, identify who they have contacted, quarantine those contacts and test widely.
Right now, the state has the capability to analyze tests, but does not have the supplies to conduct those tests. For the plan to work, the state needs to do 20,000 – 30,000 tests a day, but currently only has supplies to do roughly 4,000.
The system also needs 1,500 well-trained workers to do the testing and contacting. Lofy said they currently have 600, but have another 800 ready to begin training next week, and she anticipates having the 1,500 by the middle of May.
Inslee said the process of restarting the state’s economy is going to be slow and gradual, and will rely on the ability to go forward or pull back as infection data and modeling suggestions.
“It’s more like turning a dial than flipping a switch,” he said. “We’re going to take steps and monitor to see if they work, or if we must continue to adapt.”
John McCallum can be reached at [email protected]