With ongoing spikes in cases of confirmed COVID-19 across Washington state, Gov. Jay Inslee attempted to assuage the public's fears that things are getting worse.
“This is a good news press conference,” Inslee said toward the end of what had been a media availability marked with questions on potentialities and worries over the state of Washington amid a resurgence of COVID-19. “Maybe that will surprise you, but that’s how I look at it.”
Inslee spoke on the first day of a new mandate that requires businesses statewide to refuse service to those not wearing a face covering. The mandate, an expansion of an imposition in Yakima County previously in place, follows a similar requirement levied by the governor requiring all people to wear face masks in public, enacted late last month.
Inslee said that face masks are key for reopening businesses, saying research toward their effectiveness in stopping the spread of the disease indicated they are an important tool to stopping its spread.
“We can easily put this education to work, if we choose to do so,” Inslee said. “I want to reopen our economy. I want to reopen our businesses. I want people to be able to go back to work.”
Inslee expressed faith that businesses will adhere to the order, pointing back to their compliance with more restrictive orders toward the start of the pandemic. The governor addressed the potential backlash from customers who feel the mask mandate is against their preferences, though he said it should not be an issue that will draw any harm to those working in situations where they will have to withhold service.
“We’re not asking for people to get in any physical confrontations — just don’t ring up the sale,” Inslee said.
Inslee said that local leaders across the state are seeing “tremendous increases” in the number of individuals wearing masks already following the June 26 mask order, pointing to places in Yakima County and the Tri Cities areas which he said are seeing compliance around 90 percent.
“People are realizing this is not a partisan issue, it is simply a lifesaving step,” Inslee said.
Other than using masks, Inslee said continuing social distancing and washing hands remained measures to help stop COVID-19’s spread.
Inslee also spoke about contact tracing efforts, asking citizens to speak with individuals conducting the tracing to help the procedure be effective. Should someone be contacted by a tracer, he asked for 14 days of isolation to prevent potential spread of the disease.
Both Inslee and Washington State Health Officer Kathy Lofy addressed the argument that the proliferation of testing in the past weeks and months had led to more prevalence of COVID-19 cases being recorded.
Inslee mentioned the positivity rate of tests, which he said has been increasing across the state.
“In mid-June, it was about 3.8 percent of tests. But in the last week of June it’s risen to about 5 percent, and even higher in the last week,” Inslee said, adding that the state is approaching levels where the World Health Organization deemed countries should not lift restrictions.
Lofy acknowledged that testing was a factor in the sheer number of confirmed cases, though she said other signals in the data showed a genuine increase in infection rates. Apart from recalibration of metrics at the state Department of Health, she acknowledged that the positivity rate also showed that more people were getting sick from COVID-19 in the state.
Lofy said that the “worrying signals” weren’t isolated events, but rather a phenomenon across the state. She said amped-up activity of the disease in the summer could exacerbate an anticipated “fall wave” of spread, potentially impacting the 2020-2021 school year.
Lofy said it was “pretty simple” to describe why COVID-19 has resurged, given that compared to the start of the outbreak people are gathering more, as restrictions on public interactions have been eased.
Lofy said those in the same household of someone with COVID-19 are at greatest risk to be infected, adding that worrisome outbreaks had also been seen in long-term care facilities, food processing plants, as well as retail, restaurants and child care facilities.
The health officer stressed the need for isolation for those experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
“People are most contagious to others at the start of their illness,” Lofy said. “If you start to feel just mildly ill and go about your business and then decide to get tested a few days later, there’s probably already several people who you have infected.”
Inslee referred to data showing that the current number of new cases in the last two weeks have gone beyond the peak in April, now about 95.4 per 100,000 residents of Washington. He called out President Donald Trump, someone “who continues to try and deceive Americans about (the COVID-19 pandemic),” he said.
“Six days ago he said this virus is just going away,” Inslee said. “This virus is only going to go away when we make it go away, and the tools we have available now are available to all of us.”
“I do not believe we’ll be successfully controlling spread if only half of our population follows these measures,” Lofy said. “We really need almost everybody to follow these measures every day if we want to keep our economy open, and to send our kids to school (next year).”
“I believe we have the tools in our disposal — in our hands, just over the tip of our nose — that can allow us to have these things this summer, and next fall, and next winter,” Inslee said.
Adorned with a Seattle Mariners-themed facemask, Inslee said the state was “sort of in the bottom of the third inning.”
“We are not in the ninth inning of a nine-inning game, here. We simply are not done,” Inslee said.
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