President Donald Trump’s negative remarks about Washington Gov. Jay Inslee as the state and nation respond to the novel coronavirus pandemic “haven’t knocked us off our game at all,” Inslee said Saturday at the site of a field hospital the U.S. Army is setting up inside a Seattle event center.
The governor has clashed with Trump in recent days over the federal government’s response to the crisis, trading comments and tweets as Inslee has urged the president to provide states with more aid and equipment.
“None of us here are being distracted by the background noise that might come out of the White House,” Inslee said in a news conference at CenturyLink Field Event Center with Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, King County Executive Dow Constantine and other local leaders. “Our job is too important to save constituents and our neighbors and our families from this deadly virus.”
The Army is deploying 300 soldiers to the site to staff the field hospital next to CenturyLink Field with at least 148 beds. The site is expected to be able to start accepting patients within three days of all equipment arriving and to be fully operational within a week.
The intention is for the makeshift hospital to treat patients who don’t have the COVID-19 illness caused by the virus, in order to free up space in regular hospitals for more COVID-19 patients. Behind the speakers at the news conference inside the vast, virtually empty event center, soldiers in camouflage fatigues and boots conferred about where to place beds and work stations.
The number of confirmed coronavirus deaths in the nation surpassed 2,000 Saturday, having doubled in two days, The Washington Post reported. There have been more than 124,000 cases in the United States. Worldwide, more than 660,000 cases have been confirmed.
Washington officials Saturday reported 587 additional confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 14 additional deaths. In total, the state has reported 4,310 cases and 189 deaths since the outbreak began, with nearly half of the cases occurring in King County.
Public health experts have warned a surge in patients could overwhelm the state’s hospital system. Public Health – Seattle & King County’s health officer, Jeffrey Duchin, announced a new order Saturday making it mandatory for people with a positive COVID-19 test to follow isolation protocols at home or at a recovery facility and requiring people with COVID-19 symptoms and a test pending to stay quarantined. Individuals who recklessly defy Duchin’s order or otherwise fail to comply may be subject to involuntary detention, the order said.
A field hospital already has been set up on an athletic field in Shoreline, and the state has conducted assessments for facilities in Pierce and Snohomish counties.
“This is starting in Seattle,” Inslee said. “This capacity is going to grow statewide. We need additional hospital beds, additional ICU beds, additional ventilators across the state of Washington.”
The governor issued a stay-at-home order Monday to try to slow the spread of the virus but made an adjustment Saturday, announcing, among other things, funerals may take place as long as the services are attended only by immediate family members of the deceased and as long as attendees stay at least six feet apart.
Inslee’s order initially had banned all gatherings, including weddings and funerals. That led to confusion and distress among some families, cemetery operators, faith leaders and funeral directors, a Seattle Times story detailed Friday.
“We’re going to have a lot of changes to these orders as time goes on,” the governor said Saturday. “What I heard was some heart-wrenching stories in the last 24 hours of people who lost loved ones and could not stand the thought of not being present.”
Far away in Washington, D.C., Trump lashed out at Inslee during a news conference Friday, saying he had advised Vice President Mike Pence not to call Washington’s governor. Trump implied federal aid might be made contingent on how governors behave.
“They’re not appreciative to me, they’re not appreciative of the Army Corps, they’re not appreciative to FEMA,” Trump said, referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“I say, ‘Mike, don’t call the governor of Washington, you’re wasting time with him.’ If they don’t treat you right, I don’t call.”
Asked about those remarks Saturday, Inslee said emergency work in Washington state would continue, undeterred.
“Insults are not going to stop us from working together,” he said, praising the Army, FEMA and Pence, whom the governor has had “good discussions with.”
FEMA has allocated $100 million to the military to augment medical services to combat the pandemic in Washington. The new field hospital in Seattle is part of that effort.
“This site will soon be transformed,” U.S. Army Reserve Brig. Gen. Doug Cherry said, “into a lifesaving, life-sustaining American Army hospital.”
At Saturday’s news conference, FEMA Region 10 Administrator Mike O’Hare made a point to assure Washington residents that his office would support them. Region 10 is based in Bothell and also covers Alaska, Idaho and Oregon.
“The health and safety of the American people and especially the people of Washington state are my top priority,” O’Hare said. “I’ve told Gov. Inslee and Mayor Durkan and many others in no uncertain terms, ‘If you need something, tell us.'”
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who also has clashed with Trump, told a radio station Friday that medical equipment vendors “with whom we’ve procured contracts — they’re being told not to send stuff to Michigan.” Inslee said he hadn’t heard anything like that happening in Washington.
“I hope that’s not the case,” he said. “It would be one of the most grievous insults to democracy and the health of our loved ones I can possibly imagine.”
“I expect that the president will not do that,” he added, saying “any scent” of Trump holding up aid would lead the nation to “call him to knock that off.”
The White House approved Michigan’s request for a major disaster declaration Saturday, and previously had approved Washington’s request, committing less help in each case than the governors requested.
Inslee and Trump have knocked heads before; earlier this month, the president called the governor “a snake.” But the most recent sparring began when Trump told governors on a call his administration was ready to be their “backup.” Inslee pushed the president to mobilize manufacturers and interjected, “We don’t need a backup. We need a Tom Brady,” referring to the Super Bowl-winning quarterback.
Football-themed zingers aside, progress has been made, Inslee said Saturday. Invoking the Defense Production Act, Trump on Friday ordered General Motors to produce medical ventilators, which it had already planned to do with Bothell-based Ventec Life Systems.
“He said he would not do that. The next day he did that,” Inslee said. “I’m happy he followed my advice … We’ve got to get manufacturers in the game.”
The new Army field hospital in Seattle will be set up for emergency medicine, pharmacy, clinical laboratory services, limited microbiology capability, surgical services and radiological services.
It will be staffed by soldiers from the 627th Army Hospital in Fort Carson in Colorado. They arrived Friday, and materials are being brought in by truck from Colorado. The event center in normal times hosts concerts and events such as dog shows, home shows and boat shows.
“Welcome to Seattle,” Durkan said at the news conference. “Soldiers, we’re glad you’re here. We appreciate your work.”
The Port of Seattle will make sections of Terminal 46 available for trailers and equipment storage to support the Army’s operations, officials announced Saturday.
Inslee described the Army health care workers as heroes Saturday and urged Washington residents to “be part of the 627” by staying home in accordance with the emergency order he issued Monday. En route to the Seattle news conference, “Frankly, there were way too many cars on I-5,” he said.
“I want to ask Washingtonians to do something, which is to take a little picture out of the newspaper of a nurse,” the governor added. “Tape it on your dashboard and before you start your car look at that nurse and say, ‘Do I really want to put this person at risk?'” by leaving home.