‘We do not have a vaccine, but we have each other’; Inslee addresses rising COVID cases

Jay Inslee
Copyright 4 News Now

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Governor Inslee held a press conference Tuesday addressing the rising COVID-19 cases and the state’s response to the pandemic.

Inslee quickly touched on the delays in the state’s unemployment compensation. The Governor’s Office says the Employment Security Department (ESD) has been working “as hard as humanly possible,” while people are waiting several months for their benefits.

“As you know people are terribly frustrated by this,” said Inslee. “We still have thousands of people who have not been able to have their claims processed fully in a timely basis.”

Inslee noted that queues had, at one point, been as high as 81,000, but ESD has reduced that number to 37,000; the Department has also resolved identification issues for 200,000 with assistance from the National Guard.

Since March, Inslee says that 866,000 people have received over $6.7 billion in unemployment benefits.

“We’re going to put the pedal to the metal on this,” said Inslee. “Washingtonians deserve that.”

COVID-19 response

“This fight has been tough, it’s been unpredictable,” said Inslee, “and we know it has been very tiring for all of us—for our families, for our workers, and for our businesses as well.”

If the trend of COVID-19 cases continues upward, Inslee warns that he would consider moving counties back in their reopening phases.

“Here’s the good news: we know what works,” said Inslee, noting that face masks greatly reduce coronavirus infections—and that his ‘no mask, no service’ order is now in place.

RELATED: ‘No mask, no service’ mandate begins Tuesday

“So far local leaders, east and west of the Cascades, are telling us that they’re getting tremendous increases, already, in adherence to this facial covering requirement,” said Inslee. “People are realizing this is not a partisan issue; it’s simply a life-saving step.”

The Governor’s Office says that, just weeks ago, around 35 percent of Yakima residents were wearing masks. Now, Inslee says that rate is around 90 percent. Similarly, Commissioner Delvin told Inslee that mask-wearing in Tri-Cities is around 90 percent, as well.

One of the most important steps, Inslee said, is listening to contact tracers.

“This is a long fight. We’re in the bottom of the third; we’re not in the ninth inning, here. We simply are not done,” said Inslee. “We do not have a vaccine, but we have each other.”

Presenting a graph of Washington’s infections over time, Inslee pointed out the plummeting numbers in April, May and early June. Since then, cases have risen dramatically since then; Inslee said that Washingtonians will simply have to lowers the numbers once again.

“We don’t need to be afraid, we just have to be committed,” said Inslee. “This virus is only going to go away when we make it go away.”

Inslee said the rate of positive tests is increasing in most regions—in mid-June, Inslee said positives made up 3.8 percent of tests; by late June it was 5 percent and is steadily increasing. According to the World Health Organization, a country with infection rates that high should not lift restrictions.

According to the Governor’s Office, lower positives can be achieved through more testing.

State Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy addressed the rising COVID cases, as well, saying that the state’s disease modeling team has determined that disease activity is increasing.

With that, hospitalizations and positive cases are rising and are no longer confined to hotspots around the state; it is now simply statewide transmission.

Dr. Lofy said that if this trend continues, many hospitals will be full of COVID-19 patients through the summer and into the fall, setting them up poorly for another wave of hospitalizations.

“If we want to be successful, as a state, in managing this pandemic, we all need to do our part,” said Dr. Lofy.

She said the most important measure in stopping the spread of the coronavirus is isolation—if you have COVID-19, stay home and get tested. Most people, Dr. Lofy said, are contagious at the start of their illness.

If you live with someone who has the virus, you must stay home as well, even if you test negative, according to Dr. Lofy.

Inslee said he is confident in public compliance of his mask order.

Before wrapping up, Inslee commented on the Trump administration’s decision to block international students from entering the country if their university’s classes are being held online.

RELATED: International students may need to leave US if their universities transition to online-only learning

“This is a typically xenophobic and reckless act by the administration,” said Inslee, “it creates perverse incentives to force universities to do in-person classes, even if they consider that to be unwise and unhealthy.”

With that, Inslee noted that he is working with local leaders and the University of Washington to determine safe ways to hold in-person classes.