Gov. Inslee announces variances for five counties, opens curbside retail
Gov. Inslee on Friday said the state has approved variance for five small counties in Washington state. Columbia, Garfield, Lincoln, Ferry, and Pend Orielle are able to move on to Phase Two of reopening.
Still pending are Skamania, Kittitas, and Wahkiakum counties. The governor expects more counties will move forward in the coming days.
Additionally, the governor opened curbside retail for non-essential business and landscaping. His office said they’ll be posting industry guidelines later Friday, which will be effective immediately. As soon as a business can comply with the requirements, they’ll be able to start business back up. As for mall-based businesses, they need to deliver goods through the mall entrance.
Gov. Inslee displayed an COVID reproductive numbers, for both Eastern and Western Washington. The Re number is the number that one person infects. If the number is one, you essentially continue to have the same rate of infection. The rate was 3 in early March. That number dropped to almost 0.5 in early April, but climbed again. The governor is worried the line is again approaching 1.
“This is a very challenging moment for us where we just cannot allow that line to go significantly above one or we will simply again see exponential growth,” Inslee said.
He showed another graph from the Institute of Disease Modeling that showed the rate of infections peaking just before the end of March. The data points are trending down now, but Inslee is concerned that if Washington lets off on the current social distancing strategy that rate will increase.
Inslee announced on Friday that the state has received its first significant shipment of collection materials for increased testing. The goal is about 20,000 tests daily. Currently, about 4-6K tests are reported completed daily. The governor has said increased, rapid testing will be key in quickly reopening businesses and schools.
Inslee said they received 37,000 swabs on Friday and they’re promised another 60,000 by early next week, followed by weekly shipments of more than 100,000 swabs.
“This is really good news and we appreciate that this is coming in, but we have to increase the level of this supply because as we come out of this and reopen our economy, we will have even more need for more testing as people go back to school and people go back to work,” Inslee said.
The governor said he recently spoke with the Food and Drug Administration commissioner and Vice President Pence to validate at-home testing. On Friday, the FDA announced it would evaluate new tests for at-home collections.
Criminals exploiting unemployment
Gov. Inslee said his office is working to weed out unemployment fraud, as reported by the Seattle Police Department.
“Those folks are going to be in a particularly hot place when they are caught and convicted,” Inslee said. “We take that as a very, very serious crime in the middle of a pandemic for people who would be so irresponsible.”
Inslee said weeding out fraud is a challenge when thousands of people are applying and staff are trying to process those claims as quickly as possible. He said it’s important that people triple check their paperwork to eliminate mistakes, and the department is doing what it can to take advantage of technology and beefing up staff.
Inslee said he would like to see school start in the fall and there’s good reason to believe it can happen, but it’s dependent on what we do now. It’s more likely schools will reopen if we all practice good social distancing now and this summer. He said he doesn’t see school learning on-site happening before the 2020-21 school year. He took time to thank educators and parents for being flexible and creative while students distance learn.
Ending the emergency declarations
When asked about lawsuits to end the emergency declaration, the governor said his office will continue to use science to make rational decisions with the health of Washingtonians and the health of the state’s economy in mind.
“We will not be intimidated by these folks,” Inslee said. “Anyone can file a lawsuit and it looks like anyone has. I feel good and confident about our position.”
The governor said he’s listened to a lot of people, including Republicans, and that’s why they’ve opened construction, elective surgery, outdoor recreation, golf courses, retail with curbside service, auto sales, and car washes.
“We are making progress, is my point, but a willy-nilly abandonment of the health of our people, we’re not going in that direction,” he said.