Gov. Jay Inslee discusses the COVID-19 pandemic and the state’s response during a press conference on Thursday, March 26. Screenshot

Gov. Jay Inslee discusses the COVID-19 pandemic and the state’s response during a press conference on Thursday, March 26. Screenshot

Inslee: Stay-at-home orders must continue to completely eliminate COVID-19

Slight decrease in rate of new coronavirus cases, but residents must continue to hunker down.

The curve of COVID-19 cases is slowing, but that just means Washingtonians need to continue with the “stay home, stay healthy” order Gov. Jay Inslee announced March 23.

That was a key message during the governor’s press conference on March 26.

During during the event Inslee showed a graph illustrating the rate of increase in COVID-19 cases statewide. While the curve continues to rise, it has turned down slightly, meaning the rate of news cases in Washington has decreased — but only slightly, Inslee stressed. He said this means some of the actions the state has taken, including closing schools earlier this month, have shown a modest improvement in the coronavirus outbreak in Washington.

“It is a glimmer of hope,” Inslee said.

That, however, does not mean the governor’s stay-at-home order will be lifted any time soon. It means it needs to continue and residents cannot let up yet, Inslee said, cautioning that we are not within “10,000 miles of champagne corks” yet.

“We want to continue that effort,” he said. “We have to hammer this until we can be assured it will not spring back up…This [stay home, stay healthy] order may go beyond two weeks. We have to be prepared for that.”

Inslee also noted that the graph shows the overall picture of what is happening in Washington. It does not show what is happening in different parts of the state.

While the rate of increase in the central Puget Sound core — where the outbreak began — may be lowering, it is not lowering in other parts of the state. The governor said in areas that have not seen a bend in the curve yet might see a wave of fatalities.

During his remarks, Inslee acknowledged the economic impact his order is having on the state, but said the pause is not the worst thing for the economy at the moment. It is probably for the best, he said, because the healthiest thing for the economy is to beat the virus outright and not have it come back.

“That is a distinct possibility,” Inslee said, adding that his stay-at-home order is not just addressing the public health issue, it is an economic strategy.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak began, the Employment Security Department, which handles unemployment, has been flooded with new claims. Inslee said this week, the office received about 133,000 claims, compared to the roughly 6,000 new claims it was receiving just two weeks ago. He said the claims are coming in five times faster than they were in the last recession.

To address the increase in claims, the state is bringing on hundreds of additional staff in order to meet the office’s needs. In addition, measures are being taken so part-time workers as well as those who hold gig economy jobs are also eligible for unemployment benefits, Inslee said.

Inslee also touched briefly on the $2.2 trillion stimulus package Congress passed March 25.

“I want to thank the Congress for acting on this,” he said.

While he did not go into the specifics of where that funds will be spent in Washington, Inslee said money will be distributed to families and people who are receiving state unemployment benefits would get an extra $600 per week for up to four months.

Although he is appreciative of a recent shipment of medical personal protection equipment (PPE) Washington received from the federal government, Inslee said the federal government needs to step up its efforts in responding to the outbreak, noting that all 50 states are in a “mad scramble” to get the equipment and supplies they need to address the outbreak. He said if the federal government became a buyer, it would have more buying power than any individual state, adding that other state governors shared this view.

Inslee said in Washington, the state has purchased additional equipment from private vendors, thanking members of the public who have donated to the cause. He added he is also searching the globe for equipment, even reaching out to one of his neighbors who has connections in China to see if there is equipment available there that could be shipped to Washington.

While additional equipment and hospital capacity is needed — the governor noted that the state will be receiving two field hospitals through FEMA — there is also the need of additional medical personnel.

In that vain, Inslee implored any retired health care workers who might be willing to come out of retirement to help in the efforts to fight the outbreak to do so and his office is doing what it can to help expedite the process to get people re-licensed to practice medicine again.

For more information, go online to coronavirus.wa.gov.

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