Governor Jay Inslee bumps elbows with staff before a group photo at the Snohomish Health District’s Incident Command Center on Friday in Everett. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Governor Jay Inslee bumps elbows with staff before a group photo at the Snohomish Health District’s Incident Command Center on Friday in Everett. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

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Local, federal leaders scramble to expand COVID-19 testing

A UW lab can handle more than 1,000 tests per day, but not everyone needs one, Gov. Inslee says.

EVERETT — The number of available COVID-19 tests is rising rapidly, Gov. Jay Inslee said during a visit Thursday to the Snohomish Health District in Everett.

The University of Washington’s lab can perform more than a thousand tests per day, he said. Soon state Department of Health facilities will have the capacity for 400 to 600 tests each week. If approved, private centers could eventually conduct tens of thousands of tests daily. It’s unclear how many tests have been administered statewide since the outbreak began.

But not everyone needs a test, even if they experience symptoms, the governor said.

“The vast majority of people who will contract this virus will only have mild flu-like symptoms and they will not need medical intervention,” he said. “If you have concerns, contact your physician or physician’s assistants, describe the situation and follow their advice. … But this is a potentially fatal virus, we certainly recognize that.”

For those experiencing mild symptoms, stay home and treat them, Inslee said, but “there isn’t any particular pill that would be given even if you test positive for the virus.”

So far, there are 19 confirmed cases in the county, including one fatality. Statewide, 79 people have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the state Department of Health.

One researcher estimates that number could double every week, Inslee said, unless there’s a change in the virus or how it spreads.

“But that is just one researcher with one model,” he said.

A Snohomish County coronavirus patient was successfully treated with an experimental drug that’s being tested, but a government-approved vaccine for the virus could be 1½ years away, the governor said.

“This is going to be a slog,” he said.

In the meantime, Inslee and others urged people to avoid large gatherings, especially those who are older or have underlying health conditions.

During the meeting Friday, local leaders and health officials told the governor they don’t have enough resources to combat the virus alone.

Help is on the way, Inslee said.

The state is paying for COVID-19 tests for uninsured patients and covering co-pays for those who are insured, he said. Leaders are also calling on the federal government to expand unemployment compensation to workers without sick days who are in quarantine.

“We’re a state that cares about workers,” Snohomish County Councilmember Megan Dunn said. “We have paid family leave, paid sick days. To continue with that, we need to think about those equity issues. If you self-quarantine, there should be a way for you to prove that you were making the best decision for community health and still get those benefits.”

The federal government is also providing additional masks and respirators.

Local government budgets can’t keep up with the costs, leaders said.

Treating Snohomish County’s first confirmed coronavirus patient cost the county $200,000, Rep. Susan DelBene said during a press conference in Seattle on Friday.

“Although we have an outstanding health district, we are wildly under-resourced and as this situation grows, we are going to be in a very difficult spot,” Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin said. “We’re just constantly behind the curve.”

In Olympia, the Legislature is working on a $100 million budget supplement to help pay for the emergency response.

“The question will be how they divide up the money,” Edmonds City Council President Adrienne Fraley-Monillas said.

Federal dollars will come, too.

On Friday, President Trump signed a bill to dedicate $8.3 billion to combating the virus.

About $11.5 million is coming to local governments in Washington, Rep. Derek Kilmer said during the Friday news conference in Seattle.

“I’m pleased to hear about some of the resources that are coming our way,” Franklin said, “but I will be fiercely advocating for additional resources from the federal government so that we can ensure that the families who need it most are taken care of.”

When it comes to closing schools, Inslee said that decision is still up to the districts.

“If you shut down the schools, there’s issues of childcare, there’s issues of children infecting grandpa or grandma,” he said. “These are not easy decisions.”

Everett Community College is turning to online instruction for some classes for the rest of the quarter, the school announced Friday.

Many businesses and agencies also are voluntarily canceling events. On Friday, event producer Jim Ashe said the three-day Everett Home and Garden Show will no longer take place.

“I’m on damage control. … The exhibitors are spooked. I don’t think the attendance would be good, with everything considered. Maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea,” Ashe said. “The timing of course couldn’t be worse.”

The event, scheduled to take place March 13 to 15, attracts thousands of visitors each year. It was slated to have around 300 exhibitors.

In 31 years, Ashe said, he’s never had to reschedule the show.

Joey Thompson: 425-339-3449; jthompson@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @byjoeythompson.

This story has been updated to report that Everett Community College will offer some, but not all, of its classes online, and that Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin did not discuss cancelling the Everett Home and Garden Show with the event producer.

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