Gov. Jay Inslee has made a new call to action in the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, asking for Washington residents to “take it outside” as much as possible as more pleasant weather comes to the state.
Speaking in a rare outdoor and in-person press conference in front of the governor’s mansion in Olympia Thursday, April 15, Inslee announced the new initiative.
“We are asking Washingtonians in the upcoming weeks to take it outside … whatever we are going to do when we are around other people,” Inslee said. “Whether it’s a coffee or a chance to see an old friend, or whatever recreation we are going to have … or even what business we want to get done.”
The new catch phrase of sorts comes as the governor expressed concern over “strong evidence” there is a fourth wave of COVID-19 hitting the state, given the rise of cases and hospitalizations in Washington. The governor said the state has more than 1,000 cases reported daily, up from 700 in February, and daily hospitalizations are in the 40s, up from the 30s in March.
“These numbers are going to continue to go up unless something changes in our state,” Inslee said.
He spoke about prior “weapons” the state has used against the pandemic, such as the mask mandate and the arrival of vaccines, likening the call to take part in activities outside as another tool to add to the state’s arsenal.
“With the blossoms out and the daffodils going like crazy, and we’re getting up to 70 (degrees), that’s a great day to take it outside,” Inslee said.
“We have faced this same situation we are in today in the state of Washington three times already, and we have acted,” Inslee said. “And because we acted as a state, we’ve knocked down this virus three times. Now it’s time to knock it down (on) a fourth occasion.”
Inslee said doing activities in the open air alongside the broader vaccine effort “could be a knockout punch” for the pandemic.
“We’re just so close for success,” Inslee said.
Inslee addresses vaccine efforts, rollbacks
During the press conference, Inslee spoke about other efforts in the state to respond to COVID-19, including ongoing vaccinations. The governor said the state is at 62,000 vaccine doses administered daily, well above the initial goal of 45,000 per day.
With supplies at adequate levels, Inslee said hesitancy over getting the vaccine is a new challenge. He asked Washington residents to urge their eligible loved ones to get the shot. Acknowledging the pausing of administration of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine might lead to greater concerns over vaccine safety, he said he believes the potential to save lives from vaccinations could be greater than the risk. The vaccine was paused after six individuals developed rare blood clots among 7 million who were vaccinated.
“To put that in context, that is less than a one-in-a-million chance,” Inslee said. “An average American is more likely to get struck by lightning, literally, than to have a problem with this vaccine, from the information that we have today.”
Inslee said some accepted medications have much more frequent incidences of severe side effects than the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, adding it is his understanding its administration was paused to make sure the right therapy was available to treat cases of the rare complication.
Inslee mentioned three Washington counties moved back into Phase 2 of the state’s “Healthy Washington” plan starting Friday — Cowlitz, Pierce and Whitman — saying he had confidence those counties will be able to move back into Phase 3 during the next examination of COVID-19 metrics if residents follow masking, vaccination and “taking it outside” recommendations.
Late last week, the governor was sent a letter signed by dozens of business and community groups asking to hold off on the rollbacks. Inslee said his rejection of the request was in keeping with prior decision making through the pandemic, which he said was based on a reliance on science.
“I know we feel like we’re done with the virus, but the virus is not done with us,” Inslee said, adding the decision to keep the rollbacks “was not without a lot of thought.”
“Any time you restrict a business, you don’t do this cavalierly. We’ve thought deeply about this,” Inslee said, pointing to a decision the week prior to change criteria for counties moving back that requires not meeting both recent case and hospitalization rates, as opposed to not meeting a single one as had been the case in the past. In order for counties to move back to Phase 3, they must still meet both criteria. Inslee said it’s unlikely the criteria will change.
“The decisions we’ve made have been criticized with some frequency, but they are saving lives in the state of Washington,” Inslee said, adding that more than 17,000 lives had been saved in the state compared to other states who had not made the decisions Washington has.
Inslee said there isn’t yet a “scientific algorithm” available for vaccination percentages to begin using that data as a metric for state reopening guidelines. He said he hopes such an algorithm would come to light, though he noted there isn’t certainty the metric would be valuable at all.
Inslee also pushed back on using COVID-19 death rates instead of new case rates for determining reopening metrics, pointing to the number of younger individuals having long-term and potentially severe complications from the disease.
“These are all kinds of Washingtonians (being hospitalized.) Not just those of age, but the younger folks are now becoming people who are now ending up in our hospitals across the state of Washington,” Inslee said.