Gov. Jay Inslee and State Health Officer Kathy Lofy walk through a health clinic in the International District Tuesday morning.
Gov. Jay Inslee and State Health Officer Kathy Lofy walk through a health clinic in the International District Tuesday morning. Lester Black

Gov. Jay Inslee used a previously scheduled visit to a health clinic in Seattle’s International District to reassure residents that the state is “rapidly increasing our capability” to test patients for COVID-19, the deadly flu-like virus that has killed nine people in Washington state.

“We’ve got up to 200 tests a day at the state lab and we are very pleased that the University of Washington started testing yesterday,” Inslee told reporters Tuesday morning at International Community Health Services. “Their capacity, I’m told, is about 100 today and they have expressed the hopes that in short order they will be in the thousands range with over a thousand tests a day, which will be a dramatic increase in our testing capability.”

The government’s ability to test for the highly contagious and sometimes-fatal virus has come under scrutiny after the federal government distributed faulty test kits last month, leaving only a few hundred people tested across the country to date, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

King County is at the center of the country’s first deadly outbreak of COVID-19, with 21 known cases in the county and eight deaths. One person has also died from the virus in neighboring Snohomish County. Many of those cases are linked to one long-term health care facility in Kirkland, which appears to be the common link between seven of those deaths.

Dr. Kathy Lofy, the State Health Officer for the Department of Health (DOH), warned that the virus is likely already spreading beyond the Seattle area.

“Bottom line is that it’s here in Washington and everyone is at increased risk now, because there is so much travel between Eastern Washington and Western Washington,” Lofy said. “We know that it is spreading in King County. We know it is spreading in Snohomish County. It’s very possible that it’s spreading in other counties as well.”

Thirty minutes after Lofy’s statement, health authorities in Snohomish County reported their first death from the virus.

Lofy warned that the virus is likely already spreading across the state.
Lofy warned that the virus is likely already spreading across the state. Lester Black

Washington is home to the country’s first known COVID-19 patient, a Snohomish County man who traveled from the outbreak’s source in Central China to Washington in January and tested positive for the virus on Jan. 17.

A Fred Hutchinson researcher found evidence that the Jan. 17 COVID-19 case is directly linked to a case that was discovered last weekend, meaning the virus could have been spreading across the region, unnoticed, for weeks. That researcher blamed a lack of quick testing for causing more cases.

Inslee said his office has been petitioning the federal government to expand testing since mid-January and has worked to increase the state lab’s ability to test for the virus.

“We didn’t wait, we built our own capacity to do these tests so that we were ready to go and that is why we are now able to do 200 tests a day,” Inslee said. “And that will continue to build.”

Inslee refrained from lambasting the Trump Administration’s response to the attacks (unlike Washington’s Sen. Patty Murray), although he did say the president should speak about coronavirus less.

“It would be a good thing if the president does not degrade the integrity of the medical information, let’s let the medical people and the experts really talk,” Inslee said.

Inslee said he is speaking with the federal government this afternoon and will continue to ask them to expand the criteria for who can be tested for the virus. Currently, only people who have knowingly been exposed to the virus, traveled internationally to affected regions, or been hospitalized for symptoms can be tested.

This narrow testing criteria has frustrated people across the Seattle area who want to be tested but have so far been denied.

Inslee directed people who have been refused tests to reach out to their primary care doctors to find out if they qualify.

“Take another run at this, we may have this problem solved shortly, but it’s going to take [action by] the federal government,” Inslee said.

Inslee's Tuesday press conference was during an already scheduled visit to the International Community Health Services clinic to discuss Washington’s new public medical care option, which was signed into law by Inslee in June of last year.

“What we learned today in our discussion is that our need for the public option moving forward is even greater than we thought it was,” Inslee said. “The coronavirus has shown the necessity of health insurance. We want people to have health insurance not only for their own good but the public’s good so people can be treated.”

Inslee used the press conference to remind people to wash their hands, stay home from work if they feel ill, and don’t be a racist fool who avoids delicious Asian food out of an unscientific belief that Asian people are more likely to have the virus.

“Viruses do not know ethnicities and viruses do not discriminate, we should not either,” Inslee said. “If you’re thinking about going to a restaurant, there’s nothing wrong with going to an Asian-American restaurant—some of the best food in the world.”