OLYMPIA, WA — Gov. Jay Inslee's order requiring Washingtonians to stay home and avoid non-essential activities may be extended beyond two weeks if state leaders feel the move is necessary to slow the spread of coronavirus, the governor said Thursday.
Washington's "Stay Home, Stay Healthy" order went into full effect Thursday and is set to expire April 8.
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During a press briefing Thursday, Inslee said he was heartened by the response to his order so far, and pledged state agencies would continue to work with millions of people and businesses in Washington affected by widespread business closures.
"So far, we have seen overwhelming compliance, and that is to be expected, I think, because Washingtonians know what it is to work together," Inslee said.
Among the methods the state uses to determine the order's effectiveness, Inslee says, is monitoring daily traffic statistics and using geographic information from cell phones to develop a model on how overall public movements are changing.
Graph shows "very modest improvement" in new case rates
The governor also pointed to recent data showing current social distancing efforts appeared to be effective in slowing the rate of new COVID-19 infections in Washington.
"What you're seeing is that our line has gone up — bad news — and fatalities have continued to increase," Inslee said. "But if you look at the line, it has some slight reduction in the rate of this acceleration, the curve."
"It is a small reduction of the rate of increase, but it is a glimmer of hope," Inslee said. "This is suggestive that some of the things we are doing together is having some very modest improvement."
Despite the modest improvement, the governor warned against complacency and said it was essential to fully commit to mitigation efforts until the threat is fully extinguished.
"We simply cannot allow this virus to be slowed, then spring back upon us," Inslee said. "We've got to pound it, and we've got to pound it until it's done."
Inslee says COVID-19 continues to be a threat across all Washington counties
Although the majority of confirmed cases and deaths linked to COVID-19 are in Washington's three most populous counties, Inslee said the virus continues to be a statewide threat, and could quickly lead to tragedy anywhere.
"Some may think that action is not necessary outside of those counties," Inslee said. "The unfortunate reality is that today this virus is spreading across the entire state of Washington."
"What we are seeing in Seattle today could be in Walla Walla fairly shortly, [or] in Port Angeles, in Centralia."
While the state response has rapidly evolved since the beginning of the month, the governor says it is important to remember that Washington is just at the beginning of its effort to fully contain the virus.
"It will not be successful to have a success in these first two weeks and then give up all of our efforts," Inslee said. "We need our economy to come back as fast as possible, and the way to do that is to eliminate the virus in our state."
Washington seeks expanded federal support to fight coronavirus, more medical personnel
The governor said he spoke to the White House Thursday morning and renewed calls for increased federal testing support and expanded manufacturing for needed medical equipment.
"Today we are in a mad scramble, frankly, with 50 states competing against one another for crucial supplies," Inslee said.
While the health care system is not overwhelmed, Inslee says that is likely to change in the weeks ahead and underlines the need for a swift increase in hospital capacity.
"If this curve is not dramatically decreased, we could have a need for 5,000 beds in the next week or two," Inslee said. "We're going to have to do significantly more."
Some help is on the way, the governor said, including potential Army field hospitals. Inslee said the first deployment would likely be somewhere in the Puget Sound core, with further expansions elsewhere as needs require.
"We are going to need significant additional medical personnel as this wave increases," Inslee said.
The governor said he was hopeful some retired nurses and physicians would consider coming out of retirement, at least for a few weeks, to assist in the ongoing efforts.
"We have cleared the decks to get those licenses restored quickly," Inslee said. "This could make all the difference in the world."