Inslee Announces Broad Plans to Reopen Washington State’s Economy, Including Rapid Response Team

by Carolyn Bick

Washington State Governor Jay Inslee said the state will not be able to lift all current movement restrictions and distancing measures by May 4.

In a televised announcement on April 21, Inslee said that the return to normalcy will be guided by science and data, and will be “more like a turning of a dial than the flip of a switch.” He said that these decisions will be based on healthcare modeling, which currently shows a plateau in new novel coronavirus cases, as well as carefully monitoring how the spread of the virus responds, after easing some restrictions.

Inslee said that he believes some elective surgeries will be allowed to resume, based on healthcare workers having access to ample personal protective equipment, as well as some easing of restrictions around outdoor recreation. He did not give a date for the resumption of these surgeries or activities, but said they would be among the first things to be reintroduced.

He also said that his office, in tandem with the construction industry and labor unions, has come up with what he called “a sensible plan” to allow limited return to construction with safety measures in place. He said these measures would be implemented, after the most current data about the spread of the virus comes in, and said that the plan can be modified in the coming weeks, if the health modeling holds up.

“The health of Washingtonians is our top priority. We need healthy people, in order to build a healthy economy,” Inslee said. “The data tells us that if we were to lift all restrictions right now, or even two weeks from now, this decline would almost certainly stop, and the spread of COVID-19 would go up.”

This recovery doesn’t differ much from the White House’s guidelines for recovery, Inslee said. The plan for recovery begins with widely available testing of people who show symptoms and tracing with whom those individuals have had contact, and have people isolate or quarantine, if they could potentially be transmitters of the virus. To that end, he said, he expects there to be 1,500 workers “solely on contact tracing by the second week of May.” As in previous statements about the tracing team, he described this group of workers as a rapid response team, and likened them to a fire brigade.

“When your house catches fire, you call the fire department, and they come quickly. We are standing up a broad workforce that will see something similar involving state employees from the Department of Health, our local health jurisdictions, members of the Washington National Guard, volunteer healthcare workers and many others,” Inslee said.

But there’s a hitch. As is the case in many other states, Washington State still lacks adequate amounts of testing supplies. Inslee said he sent a letter stating the national lack of test kits to Vice President Mike Pence, who’s leading the federal coronavirus response.

“In Washington, we have more lab capacity than we have test kits, and a lack of supplies that keep us from getting everyone tested who should be,” Inslee said. “A variety of barriers have kept us from taking more than about 4,000 tests per day. We need to be processing about [20,000 –]30,000 tests per day for our contact tracing plan to really work.”

Inslee also acknowledged the difficult economic road ahead, and said the state needs to focus on supporting the most vulnerable individuals and businesses who will be feeling the repercussions of this virus for a long time to come. He also said the state will need to focus on behavioral health services, because the virus could “come back at us in waves.” He also said the state needs to make equity a priority in building infrastructure for internet access, so that people will have access to academics, social interaction, and business function. 

He also addressed the disparities in Washington’s communities that this virus and its economic and social repercussions have laid bare.

“Not every family can recover as quickly as others,” Inslee said. “We will need to accelerate innovation and investments in our economy, making it easier for both businesses and workers to navigate new realities of life in the era of COVID-19.”

Carolyn Bick is a journalist and photographer based in South Seattle. You can reach them here.