OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee could announce an extension of his statewide coronavirus stay-at-home order later this week, according to his chief of staff.
The order — which shut thousands of businesses to help slow the outbreak of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus — is now scheduled to lift at the end of the day on May 4. But the governor has said parts of it would continue after that date.
“We hope we will be able to tell you what the date of the extension will be by the end of this week,” said Inslee chief of staff David Postman in a news conference Tuesday afternoon. “But I’m not 100% sure we will do that, but we’re certainly going to try to share that as soon as we can.”
The remarks come as state health officials try to prepare for a reopening of the economy by expanding testing and increasing the number of people who can trace the contacts an infected person has had in order to limit potential flare-ups of the virus.
Inslee made his first stay-at-home order March 23, and it was set to expire April 6. But on April 2, he announced he was extending the order until May 4.
Meanwhile, Inslee in recent days has taken small steps to lift some measures intended to slow the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.
Inslee on Monday announced that Washington would reopen some outdoor recreation activities starting May 5, such as recreational fishing and hunting, as well as many previously-closed state parks and boat ramps.
The governor on Friday announced that some construction work on existing projects could start back up under new safety guidelines and social-distancing requirements to protect workers.
In Tuesday’s news conference, Secretary of Health John Wiesman said there have been discussions about reopening regional areas of Washington that have fewer coronavirus cases.
“We are exploring that right now, in terms of what that might look like,” he said, adding later: “We are exploring what kind of a regionalized approach would look like.
“And I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about that in the days to come, as we make some further decisions about that,” he added.
Still, Wiesman said, “We certainly want to see cases decreasing everywhere.”
State Health Officer Kathy Lofy said officials are looking at several pieces of data, including the number of confirmed cases and hospital stays, as well as modeling, including projections by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
Several of those numbers continue to look favorable, Lofy said. But the number of daily confirmed cases “kind of still concerns me,” Lofy said in the news conference. The state Department of Health confirmed Tuesday an additional 156 cases and 21 deaths from COVID-19. Those numbers bring the state’s totals to 13,842 cases and 786 deaths.
“While overall I’m sort of happy with the trend in COVID-19 activity that we’re seeing in the state as a whole, the case counts still are not as low as we want them to be,” she said.
The University of Washington’s modeling now says Washington might be able to safety reopen after May 30 — nearly a month after the current stay-at-home order is set to expire.
Lofy said health officials are looking at that and other models, but they won’t necessarily make decisions on reopening based on the specific standards being used by those projections.