With the extended deadline for Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order coming up next week, the governor addressed some of the types of data state officials relied upon in making decisions of a phased-in easing of restrictions put in place to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
During a press conference today, April 29, the governor said that “based on the data and science,” the entirety of his “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order can’t be lifted on May 4. He said more details would be given Friday on the “phase-in” approach to reopening the state.
Outside of that announcement, Inslee’s talk focused on what data went into making decisions on how to successfully phase-in the easing of restrictions without risking a resurgence in the disease. Noting that the press conference marked 100 days since the first case of COVID-19 was identified in Washington state, the governor acknowledged the recovery seemed protracted, though he stressed a need to thoroughly stop the spread of COVID-19 in order to avoid a need to return to procedures currently in place.
“I think it is much better to be disciplined now with this approach rather than have erratic steps at a later date,” Inslee said. “It’s much better to do something 100 percent one time than having the sacrifice of 90 percent twice.”
Inslee said the metrics used to inform the phase-in approach were: disease activity, testing capacity, contact tracing ability, risk to vulnerable populations, and healthcare system response.
On disease activity, Inslee pointed to data showing a decline in new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and fatalities through April.
“They are still significant,” Inslee said about those metrics, saying new diagnoses were around 200 daily in Washington state. “That’s too high.”
On testing capacity, Inslee pointed to data showing a statewide capacity of more than 22,000 tests daily save for a crucial lacking element — testing swabs and transport media to send samples to labs. Given the lack of swabs and media, only 4,650 tests could be analyzed daily, Inslee said.
Inslee said the state had “scoured the globe” for needed testing material, adding Washington has continually asked the federal government to use the Defense Production Act to require industries to manufacture those supplies.
Inslee said he was hopeful after being told by the federal government’s top testing official, Adm. Brett Giroir, that more swabs would be sent to the state “in the next week or two.” The governor later said Giroir said the federal supplies would allow for Washington to quadruple the number of tests it could perform.
“We need a guaranteed, long-term, stable supply in the millions of these test supplies to be able to help Washingtonians get tested in an appropriate fashion,” Inslee said.
Inslee said that for effective contact tracing the state would need “armies of people” to figure out who confirmed cases had contact with. As of the press conference he said there were 565 case investigators, with a planned increase to 1,500 by May 11.
Those investigators would be trained in required privacy measures as well as communications technology to conduct the tracing, the governor said, adding that the Washington National Guard was contributing 700 of its ranks to help build the tracing capacity.
Regarding the risk to vulnerable populations, Inslee pointed to the cumulative total of long-term care facilities with COVID-19, which as of the press conference was about 225 statewide.
Other vulnerable populations Inslee pointed to included the state’s hispanic community, which made up 13 percent of the state population but 30 percent of the COVID-19 cases.
“This is a non-equitable virus,” Inslee remarked, adding that setting hygiene standards for specific industries like agriculture would help to reduce the inequity.
For healthcare system readiness, Inslee pointed to a graph showing a fairly stable number of available beds and intensive care units (ICUs) in the past week, hovering around 1,000 in total statewide.
Where the state was hurting was a need for personal protective equipment (PPE). He said 13 million pieces of PPE came through the state procurement system, more than 3 million from the federal government and about 2 million in donations, but that those numbers were “well short of what we need.”
All of the different areas of data would be considered in concert, with Inslee saying there was not “one magic number” that would signal an end to restrictions
“We have to look at all of these (data points) in compilation, and we have to make sure that they all are significantly improved so that we can to the next phase of reopening our economy,” Inslee said.
Absent from the metrics were the use of antibody testing. Inslee said that although developments on more widespread testing capability could be useful as a surveillance measure, he expressed “huge caution” on using such tests to make decisions on easing restrictions. He said the belief that a positive test for antibodies to COVID-19 implied immunity and resistance to further transmission outright was a “very mistaken assumption.”
“There is simply not medical research to really show that that’s the case yet,” Inslee said.