Inslee said on Wednesday that opening up the state will have to be a gradual approach rather than a “light switch on and off.”
“It will be a dial,” the governor said of the transition away from the statewide mandated social distancing measures announced in March. “We will dial it up and down as the data suggests. It will be a phased approach.”
“The phasing will probably be the reverse of what it was going into the effort,” he added. “We started by prohibiting large gatherings, we then closed on-site education in our schools, we then had a stay home order in our individual lives, we then closed nonessential businesses. As we come out of this, we presume that that will be in inverse order as we open up some of our economy and personal lives.”
Inslee’s order in late March requires about 7 million state residents to stay home unless they need to perform essential activities. It also bans all social, spiritual, and recreational gatherings, which includes weddings and funerals. The order was intended to be effective until at least April 6, but the date was later extended to May 4.
State residents’ overall adherence to the stay-at-home order has been successful in “bending the curve” of the outbreak, Inslee noted. He added that if this continues, broad restrictions can be lifted and efforts can be directed toward more vulnerable populations instead.
Referring to a model from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, Inslee said that social distancing measures must stay for now to prevent the prospect of a rebound in new infections and deaths due to the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, also known as the novel coronavirus.
“The rate is not going down at the moment. It’s plateaued. It’s level. That’s not as good as we need. Because it means we’ll continue to experience the number of fatalities we are having today,” he said, later adding that what authorities want is for the number of fatalities to start decreasing.
Inslee said that workers in industries such as construction may be allowed back sooner if the curve continues to decrease dramatically.
Earlier this week, several construction groups sent Inslee a letter asking for permission to resume projects that had begun prior to the March 23 stay-at-home order. Inslee said the state was working with the construction industry to plan how to “get back to full construction,” but that no specific time frame has been carved out for the process.
The state may start lifting its restrictions after data indicates the spread of COVID-19 has been successfully contained, and also when authorities have protocols in place to quickly respond to and treat new cases of the virus, Inslee added. Such protocols include the ability of the state to carry out testing and contract tracing in a timely manner.
“The most difficult thing we face is the testing kit supplies for the testing, and this is a huge frustration for all of us,” Inslee said. “Because we have ramped up the ability to do analyses—the ability of the laboratories to analyze the sample. It may be in the range of 13,000 tests a day, but we’re only doing about 4,500 tests … that’s not as much as we would like as we go through the transition.”
“The reason is we simply have not had enough tests kits—swabs, viral transport medium, the vials,” Inslee explained. “This sounds kind of ridiculous and it is, but they simply do not exist anywhere in the United States right now. We have been on a huge buying spree searching the globe for this material, we’ve had some good breakthroughs in the last 48 hours, we have a million test swabs coming into the state right now … and vial and test medium.”
Inslee said that more testing will be needed after the transition back to work begins as people coming back to work will want to be tested and potentially isolated.
The governor also said he hopes new FDA guidelines will allow a less invasive swab test, which he described as “a different type of swab that can be used, almost like a Q-tip.”
Inslee earlier this week announced that he will work with governors Gavin Newsom of California and Kate Brown of Oregon on how to reopen their states.
As of Wednesday, the model predicts there will be 855 deaths in the state attributable to the CCP virus by the start of August. Washington has reported 567 COVID-19 deaths and 10,783 confirmed cases.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.