Inslee: Washington's stay-at-home order will extend past May 4; state to reveal phased-in approach Friday

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said Wednesday the state has to see more progress in several areas, including the daily number of new coronavirus cases and deaths, before social distancing restrictions can safely be lifted.

The governor also indicated that some elective surgeries would soon be allowed to resume. Read the proclamation here.

"Washingtonians have taken the threat of COVID-19 seriously, and that includes our doctors and nurses. But there are some much needed procedures that aren't being performed that should be, and we need to make sure that everyone gets the care they need during this time," Inslee said. “Through the great work of our hospitals and medical delivery system, we are clarifying that some procedures should go forward while still ensuring there is adequate capacity to deal with COVID-19 and other emergency situations. Personal protective equipment continues to be in high demand, and we must make sure that all medical professionals have what they need to stay healthy and protected while serving the needs of their patients.”

April 29 marks 100 days since Washington's first case of COVID-19 was confirmed.

"We know that those first 100 days have been extremely challenging and life-changing for all of us," Inslee said.

But he said while he knows people are eager to go back to work and for non-essential businesses to reopen, “we still can’t do that for many of our folks safely.”

Inslee said several elements are at play in his decision making, and that all of them need to see reduced risk: disease activity, health care system readiness, testing capacity and availability, an increase in case and contact investigations once a case is confirmed and risk to vulnerable populations, like those in assisted living facilities.

On the issue of testing, Inslee said the state is currently averaging 4,650 tests a day. They want to be doing more than 22,000 a day, but currently lack the necessary supplies.

The Democratic governor said he has been told by the federal government that the state would receive enough swabs to quadruple the current testing in the next week or two.

“I am very hopeful that that comes through,” he said.

Dr. Kathy Lofy, state health officer, said once testing increases, they will have a better sense of the true progress the state is making on all of the other factors that they are monitoring daily.

“I know this is frustrating for people, they want an exact number and what we need to get to,” she said. “It’s not as easy as that, we need to look at multiple things. "

Easing some restrictions

Inslee since then has announced the easing of some restrictions.

Last week, Inslee announced a plan that allows existing construction projects to resume as long as strict coronavirus social distancing protocols are in place.

Fishing, hunting and golfing can resume on May 5 in Washington, at which time people can also return to state parks and other state lands for day trips.

However, Inslee said that if the state sees an uptick in infections of the coronavirus or if people don’t continue to take safety measures while recreating, the activities could once again be restricted. Public gatherings and events, team sports and camping were all still prohibited under the current stay-at-home order that has been in place since March 23.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and state schools Superintendent Chris Reykdal announced April 6 that due to the coronavirus outbreak schools would remain physically closed for the remainder of the school year and that the state’s more than 1.2 million public and private K-12 students will continue distance learning until the end of June.

Schools have been shut statewide since March 17, and were originally scheduled to reopen April 27. Now, that closure is extended until midnight June 19 — when the spring term ends — and schools are encouraged to continue to provide distance learning.

Latest data from Department of Health

The Washington Department of Health said Wednesday that the total number of deaths in the state had reached 800, with the total number of cases over 14,000.

Officials from Public Health - Seattle & King County said Tuesday that cases in county homeless shelters and supportive housing sites for people who were previously homeless continue to increase, The Seattle Times reported. There have been 173 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in 36 county homeless shelters or supportive housing sites for people who were previously homeless, health officials said. The number includes positive cases among staff.

The virus causes mild to moderate symptoms in most patients, and the vast majority recover. But it is highly contagious and can be spread by those who appear healthy and can cause severe illness and death in some patients, particularly the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.

Some local leaders across the state have expressed opposition to a “one-size-fits-all” approach to reopening Washington, hoping to be given more control over the economic fate of their residents.

“Our economy over here in Eastern Washington, especially here in Spokane County, is far different than the west side,” Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward said in an appearance Sunday on “The Divide.” “We don’t have the Amazons, or the Microsofts or the Boeings that boost the economy.”

Woodward said leaders in Spokane County are working toward a regional approach to opening back up the economy, concerned about tourism and hospitality sectors that are especially vulnerable should mandated closures be extended into the summer months.

“Those industries have been decimated,” she said. “Half of the people who work in those industries work paycheck-to-paycheck. They have not seen three paychecks now in the last six weeks. We’re hurting. We’re struggling in a way over here that I don’t think Western Washington is and probably doesn’t understand.”

Despite the desire to move forward on an expedited timeline, Mayor Woodward said she would not do so without the governor’s stamp of approval.

“We understand that the governor has the authority to make these decisions and quite frankly, I don’t want to act outside that authority.”

State Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy previously expressed opposition to allowing regional reopenings. Lofy said in an April 21 conference call with reporters she was concerned that relaxing social distancing mandates in certain parts of the state would lead to increased spread of the virus.

“Are those folks going to be traveling around the state, infecting people from other communities and then starting up outbreaks again? That’s one of my concerns from the public health perspective,” she said.

Meanwhile, in Western Washington, some mayors have been left feeling powerless as mandates come down from Olympia.

Sixteen Snohomish County mayors penned an letter praising “early and decisive” action that saved lives, but seeking clarity on a path forward.

Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring, who was among those that signed the letter, said Sunday on “The Divide” that he does not wish to second-guess the governor’s approach, but does believe it’s time to detail a path forward.

“I think by and large the measures taken in Washington state have proven to be a pretty good success story,” he said. “We’ve bent the curve a little bit. We’re in many ways looked at nationally as a success in how to handle this. So I think that has to be acknowledged.”

“I would hope that as we get to May 4, we can at least begin the process of looking at some areas where we can maybe loosen some of the restrictions and reopen the economy a little bit.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.