Washington state appears to be achieving some “very modest improvement” in its battle against the coronavirus pandemic, but the state has not “turned the corner” and its stay-at-home order may need to be maintained beyond two weeks, Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday morning.
In a live televised news conference, Inslee said Washington recently has been able to slightly slow the rate of increase of cases of the COVID-19 illness caused by the virus. “The good news is our system is not overwhelmed today,” he said. Yet the overall caseload is still rising and hospital capacity remains a serious concern, particularly with respect to intensive care beds, the governor stressed.
Later Thursday, state health officials reported a major jump in COVID-19 cases, confirming an additional 627, including 15 more deaths. In total, there are now 3,207 confirmed cases, including 147 deaths.
Washington’s number of cases has grown as both the virus has spread and testing capacity has increased; officials were swamped earlier this week with many more test results than before, leading to technical difficulties, they said. That may be partly why only 111 cases were reported Wednesday.
Benton, Clark, Pierce, Whatcom and Yakima counties reported new deaths Thursday, and King County has in total reported 1,577 cases and 109 deaths. King County public health officials have said the number of cases could double every five to seven days.
“We are only in the first two weeks” of the stay-at-home order that Inslee issued Monday, he noted. “This order may need to be extended, and the reason is we simply cannot allow this virus to be slowed and then spring back upon us. We’ve gotta pound it and we’ve gotta pound it until it’s done,” he said.
The governor added, “This is a pause that will allow us to evaluate the progress we are making and then determine next steps … We shouldn’t be within 10,000 miles of champagne corks on this.”
Asked about the cases reported after Inslee’s press conference, spokeswoman Tara Lee said the large increase could be partly related to broader testing. “What we are most concerned about is data over time,” she said. “Time will tell what each day’s numbers mean in the big picture.”
Inslee has told nonessential businesses to close and people to stay at home except for select activities such as grocery shopping. He earlier closed schools, restaurants and bars and banned large gatherings. All the measures are intended to curb the spread of COVID-19 by keeping people away from each other.
“There’s some evidence that our community mitigation strategies … have been able to slow the rate of increase in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties,” the governor said Thursday morning, sharing a logarithmic chart that plotted Washington’s progress alongside that of other states. “It’s a glimmer of hope … that some of the things we’re doing together are having some very modest improvement.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has told Inslee that field hospitals are on the way to Washington, and the U.S. Army is sending a field hospital, as well, he said.
Meanwhile, the best way to help Washington’s economy recover from damage caused by the pandemic and by mandated shutdowns, the governor said, will be to beat the virus comprehensively.
To do that, the state will need more medical and testing supplies, he said. Though Washington has received shipments of personal protective equipment for health workers from the federal government, various supplies are still desperately needed, he said.
A state Department of Health worker drove from Shoreline to Spokane last night to pick up vials needed for testing samples in Yakima, he said. Inslee has personally enlisted a neighbor with ties to China to seek ventilators there, he added.
Protective gear is still so scarce that Washington’s emergency response officials can ship orders only to the state’s highest-need areas, and even high-priority health care workers aren’t getting everything they request.
“Unfortunately, we’re not able to usually fill the whole entire order,” Jerrod Davis, an assistant secretary for the Department of Health, said in a news conference Thursday afternoon. “That’s just the reality we have that we’re facing right now.”
State officials have been working to find and acquire equipment like gloves, gowns, thermometers, hand sanitizer and N95 and other masks. Linda Kent, spokeswoman for the state Department of Enterprise Services, said the state still badly needs hand sanitizer and medical gowns.
“And we really need more test kits,” said Kent, whose agency is helping track down and acquire supplies.
Washington this week has been able to acquire 500 ventilators, 1,200 gowns, 500,000 N95 masks and 130,000 surgical masks, according to Kent. It also has commitments to receive 13,000 thermometers, at least 2.4 million more N95 masks, 300 ventilators and 2,500 disposable stethoscopes, she said.
Those items will likely stream into the state in installments in the coming days and weeks, she added.
Earlier Thursday morning, before Inslee’s news conference, the governor participated in a call with President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and other governors. Inslee said he pushed for Trump and his administration to be “more assertive and aggressive and more organized” on helping states obtain equipment and on directing manufacturers across the country to pitch in.
“Today we’re in a mad scramble with 50 states competing against each other for crucial supplies,” Inslee said at his news conference. “We need a federal system … just like we used in World War II.”
Inslee also said he’s asked Pence to remove a rule that is blocking the University of Washington from evaluating test kits provided by the federal government.
During the call with the governors, Trump said his administration was ready to be the “backup” to the states, according to a source familiar with the conversation who spoke on condition of anonymity. “We don’t need a backup. We need a Tom Brady,” Inslee replied, referring to the Super Bowl-winning quarterback. The Washington Post first reported the exchange.
In his news conference, Inslee declined to describe the call in detail. But he later seemed to confirm his clash with the president in a post on Twitter. “I would have said Russell Wilson…but no one can be @DangeRussWilson,” the governor wrote, referring to the Seahawks quarterback.
Sizing up the $2-trillion stimulus package coming from Washington, D.C., Inslee said he expects that “significantly more” help is going to be needed, given the number of unemployment claims cascading five times faster “than at any time during the last recession.”
The Puget Sound region has been hit hardest by the virus, and Inslee has heard from residents elsewhere who think his stay-at-home order may not be necessary in their areas, he said.
“The unfortunate reality is that today this virus is spreading across the entire state,” he said. “Whatever we are seeing in Seattle today could be in Walla Walla fairly shortly, and Port Angeles and Centralia.”
More than 90% of the state’s COVID-19 deaths have been of people over 60 years old, Inslee added.
“If you’re a 25-year-old today, the most important thing you can do in your life is to call your parents and grandparents and make sure they’re not going out,” he said.