Jay Inslee speaks in his office.

Washington state is looking to move its health care system out of COVID-19 crisis mode, as Gov. Jay Inslee announced the reopening of non-emergency treatment today, May 18.

During a press conference, Inslee announced the plan to allow for medical procedures that had been postponed in the wake of responding to the pandemic. The governor noted that Washington state was the first in the nation to respond to the disease, adding the state was able to handle “the peak of the COVID-19 assault” without having hospitals overwhelmed past their capacity to perform.

Restrictions were in place partly to preserve personal protective equipment (PPE) resources, Inslee explained. Although the state is still working to secure PPE he said the state can begin to offer non-emergency medical care given proper safety measures.

Inslee noted the proclamation would also allow dental care provided that safety protocols were followed. He said that the amount of non-emergency care would be dependent on the potential to respond to a resurgence of COVID-19, as well as resources available to continue contact tracing, a procedure that has been a recent focus as the state moves into further phases of combating the disease.

Washington State Nurses Association Executive Director Sally Watkins said that in responding to COVID-19 state health officials had a three-tiered response to the disease with different focuses on care. Watkins said that the state’s healthcare system as a whole did not have to move into a “crisis care” phase which had the greatest restrictions on allowed procedures, saying that currently statewide hospitals were operating in a “contingency care” phase which allowed for the bulk of procedures given that adequate PPE was available.

MultiCare President and CEO Bill Robertson said that Washingtonians should not forego needed care out of fear of the burden on the current system, noting that since the pandemic hit the majority of care in the state was not for COVID-19, noting that heart attacks, stroke, trauma and other emergencies remained chief issues treated even with the pandemic going on.

“With many of these health issues and diseases, time is of the essence, and waiting to obtain needed care could have permanent, negative consequences, up to and including death,” Robertson remarked.

Though more procedures postponed by COVID-19 response would be allowed, Inslee noted that the state was still not done with handling the pandemic.

“Without a vaccine or widely-available treatments, we still live in the era of COVID-19. It remains a deadly foe,” Inslee said, noting that recently the state had surpassed 1,000 deaths of those with the disease.

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