OLYMPIA, WA — Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday confirmed Washington's stay-at-home order would continue beyond May 4, keeping strict social distancing measures in place across the state.
The governor's "Stay Home, Stay Healthy" initiative first went into effect on March 23 and was set to expire next week, after an earlier extension. Inslee's decision follows similar moves by leaders in other states, including Nevada, Oregon and in California's Bay Area.
Noting that Wednesday marked 100 days since the first known U.S. case of the new coronavirus was confirmed in the state, the governor thanked Washingtonians for their commitment to public health, despite an upheaval to daily life.
"I know this recovery has seemed long, but if we can avoid having to reinstate these restrictions, we know this very simply: the quickest way to reopen our economy is to get this job done," Inslee said. "We do not want to go through this pain again."
Inslee did not provide a date for when his updated order would end, saying more details on a phased-in approach for reopening would be shared Friday.
"The fundamental principle we're following is let's just do this once and get it over with," Inslee said. "I think it is much better to be disciplined now with this approach, rather than have erratic steps at a later date. I think one way to look at it is it's much better to do something 100% one time than have the sacrifice of 90% twice."
During a news conference at the Capitol Wednesday, the governor shared several data points his office considers when determining when it is appropriate to relax certain measures. The state also launched a new dashboard, allowing the public to track progress in each category via Washington's coronavirus website.
"There is no one number that any of us can hang our hats on to make a decision," Inslee said.
Inslee was joined remotely by the director of the state's COVID-19 response, the state health officer and a top official from the Washington State Emergency Operations Center.
While some metrics have shown good progress, the governor said, other areas still require considerable improvement, including Washington's lack of available testing kits. Inslee said the state needs to get its daily testing ability at or above 20,000. The state has that capacity, according to the governor, but limited testing swabs caps the state's daily testing closer to 4,600.
Inslee said the federal government has committed to ship enough kits to quadruple Washington's testing, within the next week or two.
The disease's effective reproductive rate — a measure of how many people are infected by an ill person — has fallen to around one in King County, which plays heavily into the state's calculations.
However, the governor cautioned that recent modeling shows the virus will "come roaring back," should all measures be lifted too early.
"We need to see continued improvement," Inslee said. "I don't think we can become inured to death. We see numbers, but each one of these numbers is a person. If we stop our efforts today, we're going to see a lot more people die in the state of Washington, in the not so distant future."
Another pillar of Washington's recovery plan is a large contact-tracing team, which will quickly respond to potentially infected patients, isolate them, order tests and track down others who may have been exposed to the virus.
The governor said the team is expected to have 1,500 members by May 11, including 700 from the Washington National Guard.
Inslee recently announced relaxed rules for certain construction projects, and allowed for a limited return of outdoor recreation in the state, beginning May 5. On Wednesday, the governor said hospitals could soon resume certain non-urgent surgeries.
Watch the governor's full news conference below: