EVERETT — Gov. Jay Inslee said the state is winning its battle against the coronavirus, but it’s too early to ease social distancing measures.
The site, in a parking lot near Everett Memorial Stadium, opened March 23 through a program led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. More than 2,000 tests were administered in the three weeks it was open. Now federal support is gone.
The aid was never meant to fund a long-term effort, Snohomish Health District Health Officer Dr. Chris Spitters said at a briefing with reporters Friday.
“The apparent decline in cases is a signal that what we are doing is working, but we cannot stop or even ease up or we will end right back where we were a month ago,” Spitters said. “While we’re on track to win, we are not by any means done, yet. Those of us who are Seahawks fans know just how important the final two quarters of a game, especially the last few minutes and seconds. It’s important we don’t declare victory, yet.”
In addition to the drive-thru site closing, a federally funded field hospital at CenturyLink Field closed before it ever opened to patients, so supplies could be sent to places with greater need. A quarantine center at Angel of the Winds will remain open in Everett.
At a news conference Friday, the governor shared modeling from the University of Washington that shows daily statewide deaths from the virus could drop below five by May 1. If the governor lifts his “Stay home, stay healthy” order, coronavirus-related deaths could rise again in the summer, the report says. With Easter and warmer weather approaching, Inslee and other officials are pleading with the public to stay indoors.
“All it takes is one person, one time, at one get together to infect others and cause an unnecessary death,” Inslee said. “We’re going to have grandparents who are alive for a lot more birthday parties with their grandkids because of what we’re doing today.”
As of Friday, there were 1,802 confirmed coronavirus cases in Snohomish County, with 67 deaths. Statewide totals showed 9,887 confirmed cases and 475 deaths.
While social distancing is limiting the spread of COVID-19, local and state governments are struggling to acquire the necessary amount of personal protective equipment and test kits to continue the fight against the coronavirus. Some federal resources are shifting to places with higher need.
State leaders have been “scouring the planet” looking for masks, gowns and other gear, Inslee said. In the coming weeks, Washington will be receiving shipments of 85 million pieces of personal protective equipment.
On Friday, Inslee said may need to extend his “Stay home, stay healthy” order beyond May 4, and when social distancing efforts are lifted, it’ll likely be in phases.
Testing availability is one factor in deciding when to scale back the measures.
In Snohomish County, restrictions on who can be tested are still in place, Spitters said. Tests are meant for people who are considered high risk — those over 60, who have an underlying health condition, are pregnant or work for an essential business.
If those don’t apply to you and you want to be tested, talk to a health care provider.
A study conducted at Everett Clinic locations found a test that lets patients swab the insides of their noses is just as accurate as those administered by health care workers. The health district has adopted the self-swab test, Spitters said, but there’s a shortage of the liquid in which swabs need to be stored.
A company in Spokane is producing that liquid for the state, Inslee said. Another manufacturer is working on a different swab for testing that’s awaiting federal approval.
Spitters cited another Everett Clinic study that could determine if saltwater is an acceptable substitute, which would boost testing availability.
Meeting the demand for testing is the next great challenge, Inslee said. Reaching it, he said, requires President Donald Trump to use the Defense Production Act to force national manufacturers to produce swabs and other materials.
“I’ve talked to Vice President (Mike) Pence several times and I appreciate his willingness to talk to us about this, but I hope the president can help out,” the governor said. “I’ve got to believe we’re capable of making swabs in some manufacturing plant in the United States.”
Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers said the county has been ahead of the curve in combating the virus, since the first national case was confirmed in Everett in January.
Friday marked 41 days since local leaders opened the county’s emergency management center.
Last week, officials turned Angel of the Winds Arena into a facility where people who have the virus can isolate if they have nowhere else to go. So far, the center has seen three patients.
To help with social distancing, some homeless people have been moved out of shelters and into hotel rooms, Somers said.
Schools are shifting to online learning and are continuing to provide meals for students.
Local parks were closed and non-essential activities have halted.
“We have a much better sense of the expected scale and probable impacts of the pandemic on the community,” Somers said. “But there is still much more to do. If we slack off now, we could see a rebound.”
At Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, health care workers on the front lines are seeing early signs of improvement, said Dr. Matt Beecroft, who works in the in the emergency department. Beds and ventilators aren’t at capacity and there’s a manageable supply of protective equipment at the Everett hospital.
“It felt to many of us like suddenly we were in a car speeding toward the edge of a cliff,” Beecroft said. “I feel like our car has stopped before the edge of the cliff. Other places weren’t so lucky.”
On Thursday, nurses at EvergreenHealth Monroe, and across the country, protested to call on the federal government to better stock hospitals with protective gowns, masks and other gear.
There’s still a steady volume of coronavirus patients at Providence, Beecroft said.
Health officials are concerned that non-COVID-19 patients are avoiding hospitals out of fear of catching the virus. At Providence, staff are “pretty dialed in” at separating people who are possibly infected from everyone else, Beecroft said.
“Coming to the hospital is safe,” he said.