Inslee: Phased approach for reopening economy due to virus

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said Wednesday that social distancing efforts in the state have been successful in “flattening the curve” of the coronavirus outbreak and that if the trend continues, the state should be able to transition away from the broad restrictions that have been imposed since last month to more targeted efforts to protect vulnerable populations.

“This transition will not be a light switch on and off. It will be a dial,” Inslee said. “ We will dial it up and down as the data suggests. It will be a phased approach.”

He said for industries like construction, it was possible they can be phased back in sooner if the curve continues going down dramatically. Several groups, including the Washington State Building and Construction Trades Council, and the Associated General Contractors of Washington, sent Inslee a letter this week asking for the resumption of projects that had already started before the governor’s stay-at-home order was put in place last month.

Inslee said they were working with the construction industry “to figure out protocols to get back to full construction” but said he couldn’t give a time frame on when that will happen.

The stay-at-home order, which has already been extended once, is currently in place through May 4, though Inslee has warned that it is possible the order may have to be extended once again. Part of the equation is if the necessary testing and contact tracing is in place by then.

“The most difficult thing we face is the testing kit supplies for the testing,” he said. “This is a huge frustration for all of us.”

Inslee said they are awaiting the arrival of about a million test swabs and vials and test medium, and he said he has hopes about new FDA guidelines related to a less invasive swab test.

“That will really help us,” he said.

Inslee said he understands the frustration of people wanting things to go back to normal, but he expressed concerns about backing off of social distancing too soon and seeing that curve bound back up.

“Usually when you let up on a pedal of a car you slow down. That’s not what happens in this case,” he said. “If you let off the pedal of social distancing, you go backwards and fatalities increase. We cannot accept that.”

More than 10,700 people in Washington state have tested positive for the virus and at least 567 have died. 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.

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