Gov. Jay Inslee in his big press conference chair.
Gov. Jay Inslee in his big press conference chair. LESTER BLACK

Gov. Jay Inslee was the first leader in the United States to reckon with COVID-19, and he's been pretty communicative as he’s steered the state through each new stage of the crisis. His regular pandemic-response press conferences have been one of the more consistent events in the lives of many Washingtonians during the past year. Inslee's office held 91 press conferences in 2020. In 2019, the governor held 36 press conferences, according to Inslee spokesperson Mike Faulk.

After a year of statewide shutdowns and phased reopenings, after phoning in help from the National Guard, and after winning a historic third-term as governor—despite persistent and baseless fraud claims from one of the state's most pathetic ex-police chiefs—Washington hovers in the bottom third for COVID-19 infection rates on the Centers for Disease Control's tally of infections and deaths in U.S. states and territories.

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With 2020 behind him, vaccines offering a glimmer of hope, and the whole "second half" of the pandemic stretching out ahead of him (as Washington Secretary of Health Umair Shah keeps saying), I wanted to check in with Inslee's office about how last year went for him.

Faulk responded to my questions. I didn't learn a ton from his answers. I already knew the Trump administration's response to the pandemic blew chunks, and that Inslee was a big wife guy. But, for the record, here's what else Faulk had to say on the pandemic response, vaccine distribution in Washington, and how much Trump fucking sucks:

This interview has been pruned for clarity.

What was the thing Inslee or his office did best in addressing the pandemic?

We saved lives. We put politics aside and followed the science of the virus. We made hard decisions that weren’t always popular but that gained support because people saw they were working and because they too wanted their communities to be safe and healthy.

What is one thing Inslee or his office did wrong? How would you change it now?

What I know for sure is that no one wanted things to go this way, but by the beginning of March it was becoming clear that the federal government was already way behind on controlling this virus, and didn’t share everything they knew, as it spread in Washington and other states. It forced states like Washington to take unprecedented steps to protect our communities, while the federal government under Trump continued to waste time and resources, compounding the disaster further and forcing more difficult decisions on state and local leaders in government, business, and health.

What action from the federal government could have changed the pace of the pandemic?

Early on: Testing. By the time the virus had spread beyond what our health system was equipped to handle: Using the Defense Production Act to make personal protective equipment and testing supplies, rather than forcing states to compete with each other for international vendors. Throughout the crisis: If we had a White House and federal government under Trump that was effective, qualified, and functional. The corruption and incompetence of the Trump administration in letting this happen to our country cannot be overstated.

What hope does the Biden administration provide for the next stage of the pandemic response?

Far more hope than we had with the Trump administration. It’s clear this will be an administration that takes the crisis seriously and trusts that if we give the right experts the right tools, we can have an effective national strategy. It is incredible to now look back at 2020 and remember there was no coherent national approach to an epidemic that pays no mind to states’ borders. The emergency is of a scale that no one state can deal with on its own. It’s also incredible to remember at one point, in the thick of it, this president suggested on live TV that people ingest disinfectants or shoot UV rays into their bodies.

Do you think the COVID-19 case numbers would be lower if the Washington state economy had stayed shut down for longer?

That would be speculative. Every part of the country has seen an increase in COVID activity. Washington state remains one of the leaders in terms of tamping down cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. It has been a truly difficult balance between protecting health and protecting jobs and the economy.

Would the governor have imposed the restrictions he reinstated in November sooner if this weren’t an election year?

Of course not. Every critical decision the governor made on COVID was made despite the background noise of the 2020 elections.

How does the roll-out of the vaccine change things for the state's COVID-19 response?

In the immediate time frame, the biggest benefit of the vaccine’s arrival is the hope that comes with it. People are tired, they feel defeated, and they want clarity on when this will end. The knowledge that a vaccine has been approved and more doses are in production mean people can have a lot of hope for where we’ll be as we progress through 2021.

When will Inslee receive his vaccine?

It has not yet been determined when the governor will get the vaccine. His preference is to take it when the vaccine generally becomes available to people in his risk category.

Is the vaccine roll-out going slower than anticipated? What do you say to people critiquing the speed of the roll-out?

The state is continually adjusting its vaccine prioritization to better meet our goals for administering the vaccine as quickly and equitably as possible. As the prioritizations for people expand to more groups, and as more doses become available, we will continue to reach as many people in their communities as possible.

What were some struggles addressing the pandemic as a team while remaining socially distant and virtual?

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I know the governor has really appreciated all the extra time he has been able to spend with his wife Trudi during the pandemic. Because he takes so many of his meetings virtually from the residence now, they’re together more often than they’ve probably been at any point in the last eight years of his administration.

In the office, our socially distant and virtual experiences probably haven’t been that different from most office spaces. Holding virtual press conferences, especially when there are so many media who want to cover these events, was a learning process that evolved and we think we’ve gotten pretty good at it.

Inslee's first pandemic response press conference of 2021 is today at 2:30 p.m.