Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Governor: Many COVID-19 restrictions to linger after May 4

In a televised address, Jay Inslee announced a framework for a very gradual end to social lockdown.

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday mapped a course for reopening the state and reviving the economy — but cautioned that many restrictions related to COVID-19 will remain past May 4.

Given encouraging signs that the spread of coronavirus is likely in decline, prohibitions could be lifted soon on some elective surgeries, residential construction and much of the outdoor recreation “that is so much a part of our Northwest identity, as well as our physical and mental health,” Inslee said in a televised address.

But moving too fast, too soon to repeal restrictions across the board could be “disastrous” and lead to another outbreak.

“The reality we need to be aware of is simply this: We are going to have to steel ourselves against this virus for quite some time,” Inslee said Tuesday. “It is going to affect our daily lives in many ways for months. And we have to be aware that it could come back at us in waves.”

On Tuesday, the cumulative COVID-19 case count in Snohomish County stood at 2,189 confirmed infections and 175 probable ones, with 98 dead since the outbreak began in January, according to the Snohomish Health District. Statewide, the tally was 12,282 cases and 682 deaths, the state Department of Health said.

The governor spoke two days after 2,500 people demonstrated in Olympia against his stay-home order, which has shut down much of the state since last month. The order remains in place until May 4, although the governor’s chief of staff said as of this week it is likely to be extended through the end of May.

Inslee’s plan focuses on protecting public health, bolstering the welfare of families, phasing in a restart of industries, and preventing the virus from leaving more Washingtonians dead in its wake.

Before social-distancing restrictions are eased, Inslee said there must be sufficient testing and contact tracing — that is, the process of finding everyone who has come in contact with an infected person, so they can be checked and possibly isolated.

The governor reiterated that the state remains “drastically behind on testing supplies,” and he sent a letter Tuesday to Vice President Mike Pence asking the federal government to help by building a “robust national testing system that will enable a safe return to public life amid COVID-19.”

Inslee wrote that Washington was working to procure 2½ million test collection kits, but the state was nowhere near that number Tuesday. In his speech, Inslee said current capacity was around 4,000 tests per day, when it needs to be closer to 30,000.

A number of key questions still need answers, such as what agencies will be responsible for bolstering the contact-tracing workforce, who will train and manage the new employees and — perhaps the biggest question of all — who will pay for the mammoth effort.

Inslee didn’t answer those questions with specifics in his address Tuesday.

“We really can’t let that be a concern. We will find the money,” David Postman, Inslee’s chief of staff, told reporters shortly before the address. If the state doesn’t have enough money, he said, “we’ll go to the federal government.”

Nearly 600 people across Washington are trained to conduct contact investigations, and another 800 volunteers are expected to start soon, said Dr. Kathy Lofy, the state health officer. The state hopes to “scale up” those numbers even more, she said.

Inslee is aiming to get the total number to 1,500 workers by mid-May.

The Snohomish Health District is working with the state Department of Health to iron out details as to how it will happen locally, said Dr. Chris Spitters, the district’s health officer.

“How that’s actually going to play out depends on how that plan evolves with the state health department,” Spitters said. “It’s not a small technical or human resources endeavor. My guess is we’re looking at maybe a week or two of planning and then another several weeks, I imagine, of trying to get to a point where we could actually launch.”

Meanwhile, the Snohomish Health District’s staff is chipping away at another obstacle. Workers have reduced a backlog of uninvestigated new coronavirus cases from roughly 700 three weeks ago to almost 400 as of Tuesday, Spitters said.

“We hope to get that down to zero soon, and that will give us more flexibility to respond quickly in time to new cases being reported in the future,” Spitters said. “That’s a key part of our control and suppression efforts going forward.”

The county’s only government-funded drive-thru testing site, near Everett Memorial Stadium, remained closed this week after the Federal Emergency Management Agency pulled financial support.

The health district will continue to “evaluate supply and demand for testing on a weekly basis to determine if additional drive-thru testing would be useful and feasible in Snohomish County in the near future,” Spitters said.

Some testing kits left over from the drive-thru testing site were to go to nursing homes and assisted living facilities. The health district tested residents and staff members of two local long-term care facilities last week and had plans to complete tests at four more this week, Spitters said.

Those results should be made public early next week, he said.

Herald writer Caleb Hutton contributed to this report.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald net.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Karen Moore
Civil attorney appointed to be Snohomish County judge

Karen Moore is a former deputy prosecutor. She also has experience as a pro tem judge and commissioner.

Eastside Tire and Muffler on Avenue D in Snohomish burns early Wednesday. (Snohomish County Fire District 4) 20210512
Snohomish tire store erupts in flames

The fire at Eastside Tire and Muffler was reported early Wednesday morning.

No one hurt in Lake Bosworth house fire

Fire crews arrived at the scene to find a small home engulfed in flames. It was destroyed.

Two E. Coli cases in Snohomish County; one child hospitalized

Authorities linked the cases to an outbreak in King County, possibly stemming from fresh produce.

Crews contracted by the Washington State Department of Transportation for pavement work on the U.S. 2 bridge over the Pilchuck River are set to close one lane this weekend to replace and install expansion joints. (WSDOT)
U.S. 2 Pilchuck River bridge closure and work delayed

The Pilchuck River bridge east of Highway 9 was set to close to one lane this weekend.

Josh Otusanya, 27, former Lake Stevens high soccer star turned comedian, has 4.6 million followers on TikTok for his inspirational videos from his family's home. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
A funny local TikToker with 5M followers offers life hacks

Josh Otusanya, a Lake Stevens soccer star turned New York comedian, reinvented himself in his family’s basement.

Jeffrey Phebus is sentenced to over 31 years in prison for the murder of his wife Rebecca Phebus, on Monday, May 10, 2021, at the Snohomish County Courthouse in Everett, Washington.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
‘No words’: Arlington man sentenced for killing wife at work

Jeffery Phebus, 61, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder. He was sentenced to 31⅔ years in prison Monday.

Deborah Rumbaugh (left), Jay Jordan (center) and John Boyd are finalists for the Stanwood School District's superintendent position.
Finalists for Stanwood schools chief are coming to town

Each will visit the district this week to meet staff and take part in a virtual community forum.

Herald Street Smarts columnist Ben Watanabe and Edmonds City Councilman Luke Distelhorst tour planned new bike lanes on Bowdoin Way on Tuesday morning in Edmonds. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Edmonds will add more bike lanes, reduce some street parking

The city will use a $1.85 million grant from Sound Transit to improve bicycle and pedestrian connections.

Most Read