Gov. Inslee, Secretary of Health discuss next steps in state’s COVID-19 response

Jay Inslee (1)

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Governor Inslee held a press conference with Secretary of Health John Wiesman, addressing the state’s COVID-19 testing plan as many counties move through phases of reopening.

First, Inslee spoke about the continuing George Floyd protests across the county, noting that he met with protest leaders on Wednesday. He said the talks are still ongoing, and that they are working toward ideas to push social justice forward, and to eliminate police brutality.

Inslee also praised the peaceful protests, distinguishing them from the violent escalations in Seattle and Spokane over the weekend.

“I’d like to, really, thank the leaders who have been emphasizing that to some success recently,” said Inslee, saying that he did not want that peaceful message hijacked by extremists.

Amid all of the protests, Inslee reminded viewers that the state is still responding to COVID-19.

“We are still, of course, fighting a pandemic. But at this moment of having that pandemic, we are now laying bare the racial injustice that, unfortunately, continues in our nation,” said Inslee, “and I’m heartened to see a broadened sector of the public who’s willing to fight… against that pervasive injustice.”

The Governor said the state is now better equipped to handle the coronavirus—explaining that the early explosion in infections was due to a lack of testing supplies, and a lack of knowledge.

After months of advocacy, Inslee said, the federal government reluctantly stepped up their efforts of production and distribution of testing kits, and after several months, Washington received two-thirds of the supplies they asked for.

The state’s four-step approach to fighting COVID-19 includes testing, contact tracing, isolation and face masks. To that end, the Governor said that testing capacity has grown, with 35,000 tests being carried out already.

To further expand supplies, Inslee said he has been looking to “domestic manufacturers” to produce testing kits.

Secretary of Health Dr. John Wiesman joined through webcam, noting that new information has led them to suggest a new course of action in dealing with the virus. Initially, Dr. Wiesman said, they encouraged people who believed they had a COVID-like illness to self-quarantine, and only get tested if the symptoms were difficult to manage.

Now, their message is this: “If you think you’re sick, please get tested,” said Inslee, even if you are mildly symptomatic.

Dr. Wiesman said that the state is prioritizing testing for anyone with symptoms, household members of someone with COVID-19, and people in “congregate settings” at risk for infection, like low-income housing, meat packing plants, agricultural sites, long-term care centers or homeless shelters.

“The ability to reach our most vulnerable and marginalized populations to ensure adequate testing is a bedrock part of our plan,” said Inslee.

Dr. Wiesman praised the Insurance Commissioner’s extended emergency order, waiving copays and deductibles for people who need COVID-19 testing, in effect until July 3. He also noted that Public Health is paying for tests associated with outbreaks.

“In terms of capacity, part of making this strategy successful is increasing how many tests we can process in labs across our state,” said Dr. Wiesman, explaining that the state is working to keep labs fully supplied. He said they hope to expand capacity for high-volume tests with a rapid turnaround, and electronic reporting.

Inslee then spoke on counties moving through phases of reopening.

According to the Governor, Garfield County applied to enter Phase 3, and Skamania County became eligible to apply on Wednesday. The Governor’s Office now has seven pending applications. Inslee also noted that Whitman County could become eligible on Friday.

For businesses moving to Phase 3 with their county, Inslee asked that they write a safety plan, meeting the minimum protective requirements from the Department of Labor and Industry.

As Inslee conluded, he explained that as Washingtonians start moving away from social distancing and counties move into new phases, they need to increase efforts to fight COVID-19, including face masks, sanitation, cooperation with contact tracers, and generally taking care of one’s health.