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Gov. Inslee hopes to avoid shutdowns, fight latest COVID outbreak with ‘different tools’

Gov. Jay Inslee. (TVW)

Gov. Inslee laid out the state’s plan Tuesday for dealing with a new surge in COVID-19 cases across Washington.

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While the previous roadmap in March involved sweeping shutdowns, the hope this time around is that the spread of the virus can be mitigated with increased mask-wearing, limited social interactions, and contact tracing.

Inslee cited a pair of priorities which have changed since COVID-19 first started spreading in Washington.

“What’s changed is we’re trying to accomplish two things: To be able to reopen our economy at a measured pace consistent with the science, and the ability to replace (shutdowns) with different tools in our toolbox,” he detailed.

While noting that he would prefer to keep businesses open, Gov. Inslee also warned that if distancing, tracing, and mask-wearing measures aren’t adhered to, rolling back the reopening process may be necessary.

“We do not want to go backwards — we can’t take what we’ve done for granted,” he cautioned.

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Ultimately, the goal from state officials is to flatten the epidemiological curve in a way that allows counties to continue moving through the reopening process in the near future, rather than sliding back into large-scale shutdowns.

Recent flare-ups in new COVID-19 cases have been partially attributed to increases in testing capacity. Even so, there have also been “signals in data that show the true burden is increasing,” Department of Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy noted.

That has manifested in a rise in positive tests. In mid-June, roughly 3.8% of people tested came back positive. That jumped to 5% last week, and now sits at nearly 6%. And while increases in new cases were initially limited to a handful of counties, that appears to no longer be the case.

“These worrisome signals are no longer confined to hotspots in Eastern Washington,” Dr. Lofy said.

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