OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday announced new guidance for medical services to resume — such as visits to dentists and family medical practitioners — that is intended to protect against outbreaks of the new coronavirus.
The guidelines come as the governor attempts to balance the need for reserves of protective equipment for frontline medical workers — like gloves, gowns and masks — in case of future outbreaks with the costs of keeping some of Washington’s health care system closed down.
Inslee’s plan calls for local health jurisdictions to collaborate with health care providers to create an assessment of the status of coronavirus outbreaks in their community, according to the governor’s proclamation. That assessment is to be updated on a regular basis.
The guidelines then direct those offices to develop plans allowing them to expand or contract their workload, based on whether and how an outbreak is affecting their community.
In his news conference, Inslee said such flexibility would give communities “the ability to be prepared for a potential COVID onslaught, should this bite us again.”
The guidance, among other things, requires doctors’ offices and dental practices to have enough personal protective equipment (PPE) for their staffers; to put in place social-distancing policies; and to check visitors and patients for symptoms of COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus. The guidelines also urge practitioners to use telemedicine if appropriate.
Health care providers able to meet the new safety guidelines can begin reopening immediately.
Not all health care services may decide to completely open back up, however, because one of the guidelines involves gauging whether regional emergency health care providers are ready to handle any coronavirus outbreak.
State health officials confirmed Monday an additional 178 cases and one new death from COVID-19 in Washington. The new numbers bring the state’s totals to 18,611 cases and 1,002 deaths. One additional death was also reported Sunday afternoon, and eight were reported Saturday.
The plan announced Monday envisions hospitals and local health jurisdictions keeping a reserve of rooms and PPE until there is an effective treatment, a vaccine or herd immunity for COVID-19, and until supplies of protective equipment for health care workers are more readily available.
Inslee’s office has set up an online form for business owners and operators to ask questions about reopening guidelines or other matters: https://app.smartsheet.com/b/form/2562f1caf5814c46a6bf163762263aa5.
As the outbreak rapidly spread in March, restrictions on nonurgent medical procedures and examinations were put in place to conserve scarce amounts of protective equipment for health care employees, such as masks, gowns and gloves.
But those restrictions have also taken a toll on people seeking general medical care and, like other industries hurt by the coronavirus restriction, put an economic dent in the health care sector.
Over the past few weeks, Inslee has begun lifting restrictions on a host of industries and activities — from construction and curbside delivery by retail stores, to reopening hunting, fishing, golfing and many state parks.
Inslee on Monday also urged residents not to avoid medical treatment out of fear of the new coronavirus.
“We really hope if you need care, you really need to contact your provider,” he said. “Don’t be afraid of fears of COVID-19; there’s other health things we need to take care of on ourselves.”