On Wednesday afternoon Gov. Jay Inslee sat down in his big chair, quickly announced new guidelines allowing for more elective surgeries, said he'd have more to say about "the next phase of opening our business life" on Friday, and then revealed the five dials he and public health officials use to determine when to reopen the economy.
The five dials include disease activity, health care system readiness, testing capacity and availability, case and contact investigation, and risk to vulnerable populations. Inslee said there is no magic number that will trigger him to reopen the economy, but if all those dials go into "the single digits," then he'll be able to make a judgement.
He pointed to the model from the Institute for Disease Modeling showing how many more people would die if we stop social distancing tomorrow, which is a lot.
On testing, Inslee showed that Washington could run 22,000 tests a day, which he called "a good start" and a "realistic goal," but said we can only do 4,650 per day due to lack of swabs and transfer media. He said the federal government promised "enough to quadruple our swabs in a week or two," and hopes they fulfill that promise.
As for contact tracing, we have 1,378 volunteers signed up, including 750 service members from the National Guard, but we need 1,500. Once contract tracing ramps up, more people and families will need to isolate. Most of that isolation will happen at home, though the state is still currently standing up facilities for those who don't have a home or who can't isolate in their home.
We're running at just under 1,000 open hospital beds in the state, which Inslee saw as a positive indicator.
Nursing homes—over 200 of which are seeing outbreaks—remain particularly vulnerable, as do certain demographics of Washingtonians. Inslee mentioned the virus's disproportionate impact on the state's Hispanic population, which represents 13% of the population but 30% of the infected population, and said he's working on improving hygiene standards in the agricultural industry to help address the problem.
Meanwhile, Republican leadership in Olympia continues its strategy of threatening to spread cooties everywhere if the governor fails to take actions he's already planning to take.
In a Facebook post today, House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox framed the choice of whether to reopen the economy sooner rather than later as a choice between saving lives and saving the economy: "The disease is not the only risk. The economy is an immense and increasing risk and our response to the disease is at risk if we go too slow," he said, drawing a dangerous false choice that doesn't take into account the glaringly obvious fact that we will have no economy if people don't trust that it's safe to return to work or to the public square. Public health officials have made it clear that it is not safe yet.
Wilcox stresses that "the Governor needs to continue to find safe opening opportunities," but yesterday Washington Department of Health secretary John Wiesman said the Governor's office is already giving the matter of opening up different parts of the state at different times "serious" consideration. Wilcox admits he knows this, he's just desperately trying to disguise his party's irrelevance with the illusion that Republican pressure is influencing Inslee's decisions to reopen parts of the state rather than data, the recommendations of public health experts, and, judging by the parts of the economy he's opened already, industry lobbyists.
Though Wilcox claims "social distancing will simply collapse" if Inslee doesn't do what Inslee already plans to do, the numbers show that Washingtonians are on the side of Inslee and the experts. A 61% majority are worried about opening the state too soon, and a vast majority believe social distancing is working. If Wilcox wanted to actually be a useful and responsible politician, he would figure out a way to relay the advice of public health experts to his bleach-drinking constituency and join the governor in a bipartisan request for more state aid from the federal government. But it seems like maintaining the fiction of relevance is more important to the GOP than the lives of their supporters, which, actually, is pretty par for the course and so not all that surprising. But still very dumb!