Inslee announces “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order will last past May 4

(STAFF REPORTS/Chewelah Independent)

Inslee says more info on economic re-opening will be given Friday…

Washington Governor Inslee announced that the state’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order will remain in effect past May 4 with a phased approach for opening up the economy. It has been 100 days since Washington’s first COVID-19 case, and Inslee said its best to “get the job done” instead of opening and then having to close businesses again.

So far over 13,800 cases and 786 deaths have been reported in Washington.

Inslee spent a large part of his April 29 press conference discussing what metrics are being used to determine when the state could reopen. No concrete date has been provided, although in the past two weeks restrictions on residential construction, fishing, hunting, use of public lands and boating has been relaxed.

To reopen, the first metric the state will look at is case-per-day based on date-of-onset. That number has gone down quite a bit, but needs to go down much more, Inslee said. The second metric: deaths-per-day by date-of-illness onset. The third metric is hospitalization by date of first admission. That number peaked before April in Washington. But, again, not gone down enough.

“We have seen some progress but we’re not down where we need to be,” Inslee said.

The next metric is effective reproductive rate in King Co (how many people each infected person infects.) It was over three in March; it’s closer to one now and Inslee said it needs to drop below one or else the number of active cases in the state will never go down. Case predictions show a drop if residents continue social distancing and a dramatic jump if we drop social distancing practices.

Inslee says the state needs testing to isolate spread of the disease, and that the state’s testing capability is not adequate. Inslee also added that contact tracing is key to understanding the spread of this virus. Isolating and quarantine capacity is another metric and risk to vulnerable populations, along with healthcare readiness.

Gov Inslee says the state is giving “consideration” to a regional approach to the reopening of the state, but nothing is official yet. This comes after many Eastern Washington leaders are beginning to ask for their parts of the state to be re-opened after a relatively small amount of cases. Stevens County, for example, has only nine cases and one death.

Chewelah’s mayor, the Stevens County Sheriff and the Stevens County Commissioners have publicly asked the governor to re-open businesses.

“Thanks Dr. Jay,” Stevens County Commissioner Don Dashiell said in response to Inslee’s press conference on Wednesday. “You’ll save our lives if it kills us.”

Inslee also announced that restrictions on non-urgent surgeries will be eased. The governor said there will be more details about the order’s extension, along with additional phases necessary to reopen Washington’s economy, in another press conference on Friday, May 1.

Also on Wednesday, the small Adams County farming town of Ritzville, saw droves of people drive in for 20 tons of free potatoes. The potato giveaway was organized by state Rep. Mary Dye, R-Pomeroy, who is a member of the Washington State Food Policy Forum. Farmers saw a glut of potatoes as demand dropped due to restaurants and eateries being closed to large groups of people.

She said potato farmers in particular are in trouble because 90 percent of their crop goes to restaurants and orders are down sharply.

The Department of Employment Security said it is receiving 25,000 calls a day about unemployment and that they are hiring 700 additional agents to handle the call load as Washington sees its largest unemployment spike in recent modern times because of the pandemic.

State health officials also said on Tuesday that there is a possibility of regional reopening since some communities have seen such few cases that tracing and containment has been east. The Tri-County area, for example had 13 cases and one death – most of the cases were from people traveling in from other areas and not local transmission. The last known confirmed case in the Tri-County area was on April 22 in the Nine Mile Falls area.

“I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about that in the days to come as we make some further decisions about that,” The Spokesman Review reported State Secretary of Health Dr. John Wiesman saying Tuesday. Wiesman noted that health departments around the state with lower case counts feel like they have the ability to manage COVID-19 in their districts. “Some communities feel they are good to handle what they have, so we are seriously giving that consideration.”

(This story was written by Managing Editor Brandon Hansen, who watched Governor Jay Inslee’s press conference and also looked at reports from The Spokesman-Review and data from the Northeast Washington Tri-County Health District.)