Aug 20, 2020

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee Press Conference Transcript August 20

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee Press Conference Transcript August 20
RevBlogTranscriptsPress Conference TranscriptsWashington Gov. Jay Inslee Press Conference Transcript August 20

Washington Governor Jay Inslee held a COVID-19 press conference on August 20. Read the full news briefing speech transcript here.

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Governor Jay Inslee: (05:52)
Good morning. As we know, we lost Senator Slade Gorton the other day and I have to say he had the most amazing life in public service of all kinds, of both controversy and comebacks and independence and courage. It was really an amazing public service career. And there are many things he touched in Washington State to help protect our people and our interests. And I’m wearing a Mariner’s mask in honor the work he did for the Seattle Mariners. They literally would probably not have been here without Senator Gorton’s efforts as an Attorney General and otherwise. And we enjoy the fruits of that work.

Governor Jay Inslee: (06:35)
I also want to note that he had a unique independence and strength that he showed in many occasions, voting for the impeachment of Presidents Nixon and Trump. And that’s an independence that I think can be very valuable in our country. Our hearts are with his family. I knew his wife, Sally, and we hope they realize that the state is honoring his public service in so many regards.

Governor Jay Inslee: (07:07)
With that said, I’d like to give you an update on our COVID efforts. And I am a cautiously pleased to tell you that we have seen a decline in diagnosed cases in the last two weeks, and that some of our other data shows some positive trends. The R0 number. This is of course the number that shows the number of people that an infected person infects, we think that number is about one. That means every person who’s infected infects one more person. That’s much better than being above one. And we’ll have a graph up to demonstrate where we are on that curve, but we have to understand that it’s not below one. And the only way we’d literally get down to pandemic levels, that where we can resume normal activities, it has to be significantly lower than one to be able to really continue to knock these numbers down. Now, we also are seeing some positive trends, as I indicated in the number of infections, showing you a graph here that has shown that it’s peaked some time ago and has come down with some significance.

Governor Jay Inslee: (08:21)
And we’re hopeful that this trend is going to continue. We think that we’ve had some success on this because Washingtonians have masked up. They’ve been committed. Business leaders have adhered to my order to make sure that people are masked when they’re in retail spaces. And we think we’re showing some success with that effort. I want to thank Washingtonians in this regard, but here’s a really important caveat however, we have to be honest with ourselves to realize that we are so far away from success on this, that we have to remain incredibly diligent.

Governor Jay Inslee: (08:59)
Our target for a two week period, and it’s indicated on this graph as the lower line, is 25 cases per 100,000. We are now at about 110. We are four times higher than a reasonable target where we really need to be. Many counties have hit a plateau. Fortunately, only a few counties are actually going up, but there are some. Walla Walla, Spokane, and Pierce County particularly. So the point is we just have so far to go in this effort and we want to thank those who have committed themselves to keeping themselves and their families and their community safe. We have a graph also. What’s our next graph here, Sam? Yeah, this just shows how far we have to go down to 25.

Governor Jay Inslee: (09:57)
So we have some encouragement, but many, many miles to go. There are still higher rates of disease spread in Central Washington, particularly, that we’d like to see. The numbers have been very high there for some period of time, but there is some good news in Central Washington, particularly in Yakima County, where we have seen the numbers come down. This indicates the numbers of infections diagnosed in Yakima County and you’ve seen they come down dramatically starting in early July. We think the reason for that is that we had an early mask up campaign in Yakima County. We want to thank the local leaders, business leaders, and local officials who started a local mask up initiative, and it appears to be having success. We really don’t have another explanation for this coming down so significantly. So this is really encouraging for the rest of the state that we’ve had one county demonstrate a significant decline associated with a strong masking up campaign.

Governor Jay Inslee: (11:10)
Go to our next slide, I think. This is an interesting slide. I want to show you that we also believe we have reduced the number of cases, looking at what some of the earlier projections were. So if you look at this slide, this shows the red line and for King County of the observed cases that we’ve had and the gray band, the dark gray band is what was anticipated had we not been successful in our mask up campaign. And you’ll see that in King County, the numbers have essentially plateaued, might be coming down a bit, whereas they were predicted in the gray band to have gone up significantly, had the R0 stayed as it was.

Governor Jay Inslee: (11:57)
So the point is, we’re having some success. We are reducing the number of cases to some significance. And the positivity rate in testing has gone down even as we increased testing. Again, dispelling the myth that more testing is why we have more cases. Now there’s one more slide we were going to show. This is also a very encouraging sign. This is a slide showing the reports of the number of tests done, which is in a blue line and the positivity percentage, the number of tests that came back positive, in the orange line. You read it on the left scale for the number of cases on the right scale for the positivity percentage. What you’ve seen is we have maintained a high level of testing, come down a little bit from a peak, but it remains at a very high level and that’s good news. And the positivity rate and the orange line has plateaued and started to come down in recent days, in the last couple of-

Governor Jay Inslee: (13:03)
In recent… In days in the last couple of weeks. And this is data that is reported by the testing labs to the federal government. So what we’re seeing is we’re continuing a high level of testing, we think the positivity rate has come down to some degree, and so there is some additional good news for us. Now here’s a perspective that I think it’s… We just have to keep, and we’re going to have to keep for some period of time. And that is that we have bent the curve down once before, but it has come back. And some would say, it’s deja VU all over again. We need these cases to come down. We need to try to keep them down. We cannot return to the way things were before this pandemic right now, or in the immediate future, because if we did, we would expect a very quick rebound of vengeance, as it did earlier this summer.

Governor Jay Inslee: (13:58)
So I want to thank everyone who are doing their part. We have some signs that what we’re doing is working, and we just got to put coal on into the boiler to make sure that our efforts have continued success. I went to an [inaudible 00:14:14] Brewster in Okanogan County last week, had some really good meetings with local leaders, business leaders, leaders of the Ag community, representatives of agriculture workers, and it was very informative. And it helped us focus our attention on some things that we think can reduce the prevalence of the pandemic in Central Washington.

Governor Jay Inslee: (14:38)
So we are issuing regs yesterday, that will now require agricultural employers to test their workforce broadly when local health officials identify outbreaks of a certain size in their employment group. And if local health jurisdictions report that an employer’s workforce has more than nine positive cases within two weeks, or if a local health official determines that an employer’s workforce has an infection rate at or greater than 10% over a two week period, action has to be taken.

Governor Jay Inslee: (15:13)
And when workers are isolated through COVID protocols, employers have to ensure a licensed healthcare professional visits to those employees twice daily to assess symptoms, including a respiratory exam. And we’re very pleased to make this advance, because what we have found is that this disease can sneak up on people, that they’re not even aware that they’re having significant problems, and then end up losing their lives.

Governor Jay Inslee: (15:41)
So we’re glad we’re going to have increased assessment of them. The employers will also under this rule, have to guarantee employees rapid access to emergency medical services, including access to a phone for workers who can call for emergency services among other requirements. Now this is an essential industry, it’s been one of the most challenging for us to deal with because people are working at very hard conditions, frequently close to one another, and their living quarters have been close as well.

Governor Jay Inslee: (16:15)
So we owe it to these workers and their families, to continuously improve the systems we have, to reduce the risk of COVID as much as we possibly can. When employers act recklessly with people’s health, and flaunt the reasonable and appropriate health guidance provided to them, they should be held accountable. And that will happen. To that end, concurrently the department of health yesterday issued an order to [inaudible 00:16:45] Farms in Okanogan County, requiring all of their employees to be tested for COVID-19. This is in response to a major outbreak, and the deaths of three of their workers from complications from COVID-19. The Department of Health will be leading this testing effort, and providing the testing required by this order. I’m glad that the state is being able to provide assistance in this regard.

Governor Jay Inslee: (17:11)
Now, besides the health impacts, the economic impacts on our families have been profound. So we really need the federal government to continue in its responsibility to working people in our state, and across the country. And they need to continue the $600 benefit that has previously been provided for folks caught in the throws of this pandemic. But unfortunately, in the face of intransigent from the United States Senate, and the White House, at the moment, that is likely not to proceed. And that is extremely disappointing. We would like to see continued pressure on the U S Senate to act. This is not the moment to cut in half the benefits that these hardworking people are receiving. It’s not fair to their families, and it’s not good for the economy to take these revenues away from families right now. And that’s essentially what is being proposed by the president, to cut in half these benefits.

Governor Jay Inslee: (18:17)
So essentially only about $300 of federal dollars would come into these families. And unfortunately only for a very short period of time, until the emergency money runs out, and that this would be distributed on our first come, first serve basis. So it is less than half what people need, because it’s only half of the benefit. And it’s probably much less than half of the period of time within which these families really need it.

Governor Jay Inslee: (18:47)
Nonetheless of course, it is reasonable to see if there is some benefit for Washington workers. So we are inclined to make an application, we have not made a final decision on this because we’re looking at some of the implementation rules that have been provided. It’s still been ambiguous from the federal government. But this will only last as long as the federal emergency relief that has previously been appropriated lasts, and the state cannot afford, the states cannot afford this program after the federal benefit lapses.

Governor Jay Inslee: (19:22)
So I just need to tell people we’re going to look for every option to help them, but unless the U S Senate gets off the dime, this will be a reduced benefit. It will be uncertain as to when it will start, because it will take weeks or months for this new program to be stood up. And it is uncertain how long it will last. So we remain committed to action by the U S Senate. We’ll have more to say to this in the next few days, as far as our decision on any application. Unfortunately COVID-19 is not the only emergency we have, it’s wildfire season. We have heroic firefighters that are deploying right now. We so appreciate their willingness to work so hard in difficult and dangerous situations. It has strained our resources, given the fact that we’re also responding to COVID-19. It’s compounded by the high temperatures and dry conditions we’re experiencing.

Governor Jay Inslee: (20:22)
We’ve seen the fire tornadoes in California, and we know that these increasing climactic changes have put us into greater risk, which we are now experiencing. Yesterday, I issued a proclamation authorizing the use of the State National Guard to help respond to these fires, which have now affected everywhere from the Paloose to the Olympic Peninsula. This will be in effect through September 30th. I do want to ask people to be doubly cautious. We have found that when homeowners are firewise, when they remove vegetation from close to their eaves, when they keep grass down, when they remove any flammable material from around their house, this can make a huge difference. When I visited these fires, it’s just really stunning to me… You will see one house that has been burned down to the foundation, the house right next to it untouched. And frequently, the house that’s untouched is because they took some of these measures to keep flammable material away from their house. And I hope people will try to do that in the upcoming weeks. Finally, earlier this week, I was proud to join Attorney General Bob Ferguson to announce Washington State is again leading the nation in an effort to protect our right to vote in the State of Washington. His announcement of a multi-state lawsuit against the Trump Administration is a justified lawsuit against a very clear, brazen, unambiguous effort by Donald Trump to suppress the vote, and make it more difficult for people to vote. And as I’ve said before, he effectively has confessed to that himself. And that is why we need to go to court, and have the court order him to protect the right to vote, rather than to suppress the right to vote. And it’s not just the right to vote. We have many of our seniors or veterans get their medication through the mail. So when the postal service, a political ally of Donald Trump who is hired with no postal service experience, decided to disable machines, I’m glad that we have taken action.

Governor Jay Inslee: (22:42)
Now the situation is still fraught with concern. It was pleasing that the post office… Postmaster who got caught with his hand in the cookie jar has now said that he will cease and desist these onerous and illegal actions, but it is not enough. He needs to fix what he has already broken. And unfortunately, in at least two of our centers in Wenatchee and Tacoma, some of these voting… These processing machines have been disabled. They’re not functioning. They may have been considered broken. We’ve been told by one officer that those are going to be repaired, but we have recent reports from the working people actually doing it, that they have been broken and can’t be repaired, at least under current conditions.

Governor Jay Inslee: (23:32)
So I think it is the right thing to do to insist that a court order the administration, so we have some enforcement ability. The promises of Donald Trump are not exactly credible. So I’m glad that the attorney general is again pursuing efforts. He has a good track record. He’s about 30 and one, which is an amazing win loss record against the Trump Administration. And I’m glad that we’re again protecting the right to vote. With that. John Wiesman has joined me. John, is there anything you’d like to add before we stand for questions?

John Wiesman: (24:07)
I’m good Governor, thank you.

Governor Jay Inslee: (24:07)
Okay. With that, I’ll have you stand for questions.

Speaker 1: (24:11)
First question comes from Rachel of [inaudible 00:11:15].

Rachel: (24:18)
Hi, governor. I’m not sure if this would be for you or for John Wiesman, , but on the dashboard, there’s still no information about contact tracing. So in the effort to get these cases down to 25 per a hundred thousand, it seems that work’s crucial. Do you have specific performance metrics you can share at this point, and if not, why

Governor Jay Inslee: (24:36)
John, you want to talk about that?

John Wiesman: (24:39)
Sure. We don’t have specific performance measures posted at this time. We are collecting the data, and performance definitely ranges depending on the week and the day population, somewhere between in terms of our goal of being able to get to cases within 24 hours of being reported, ranges anywhere from about 30% to 100%.

John Wiesman: (25:10)
And some of the challenges that we are facing certainly is that people aren’t answering their phones. Nowadays, oftentimes people ignore calls that they don’t know a phone number from. Messages are being left, but not necessarily being returned.

John Wiesman: (25:29)
So that’s certainly a challenge, we’re experiencing that all across the country, in terms of that challenge with case and contact investigation. So we are asking people to please return those phone calls. It’s important for us to be able to make sure that folks who have tested positive, have the information they need to stay healthy, and to protect the people they care about. And for us to be able to give information to others who they may have been in contact with. So also, we’re switching to-

John Wiesman: (26:03)
So also, we’re switching to some electronic reporting systems, many of our local health departments, they’ll do some of this reporting by hand, by paper. And we’re looking forward to getting to that place where we can get those data consistent across all the local health jurisdictions. But we’re working on it, and again, we really need people to engage and return those phone calls. We make them.

Governor Jay Inslee: (26:29)
Yeah, I want to add, any limitations have not been caused by lack of having contact tracers who’ve been trained. As you know, we’ve trained up maybe about a thousand people in advance of this. So we have the contact tracers and the state has stepped in to provide that service to local districts. So the state employees and state people we’ve contracted, are doing the contract tracing in quite a number of counties, including Yakima, is it Okanogan or Chelan-Douglas or both John, I can’t recall exactly.

John Wiesman: (27:03)
So, Chelan-Douglas and a few others. And good news is, also, we are getting out some more funding to local health departments too, to be able to hire people locally. So, that’s happening also at the very moment.

Governor Jay Inslee: (27:16)
So the point is, we have provided the person power to actually do this work, that’s not the limiting factor. It’s people’s cooperation that we need to encourage. Now, we also need to improve, as you know, the turnaround time of these tests. That has been difficult, when tests were not coming back as fast as they should, that has improved. The median time, I think has got down to two days, is that right, John? Have I got that right?

John Wiesman: (27:43)
Right. For most of our in-state labs, we’re in that two day … anywhere from one to three days, but a period, yes.

Governor Jay Inslee: (27:51)
That part has been improved dramatically. So, we are making progress, but we need more cooperation of folks.

Moderator: (28:00)
Rachel, would you like to ask a follow up?

Rachel: (28:03)
Yes. Governor, related to your remaining concerns about the postal service? Are there any plans for executive orders on adding more drop boxes or other action ahead of the election?

Governor Jay Inslee: (28:12)
We will consider options like that. We’ve not made any decisions to date, but we certainly will take every action to make sure that people have a confident ability to vote. We will listen to what comes out of this lawsuit in the near future and make decisions based on that. But you can be assured, that we’re going to do everything humanly possible to guarantee that right to vote in an expeditious manner. And unfortunately, remain … We wish we could have credibility from the president on this, but obviously we cannot. So, we’re looking forward to action by the judicial system. And then, we will look for what might be additionally available and additional drop boxes or some other delivery system. But one way or another, we’re going to make sure, people have a confident way to their ballot in. I’m confident we will achieve that.

Moderator: (29:02)
Next question comes from Joe with the Seattle Times.

Joe: (29:07)
Yeah Governor, what more can you share about the reports you’ve heard about mail processing equipment being broken in Washington, and has your office reached out to the US Postal Service, inquiring about that?

Governor Jay Inslee: (29:20)
Yes, we have. We’ve talked both to the management of the, I believe it’s the Seattle office and the people who are actually doing the work. The people who are doing the work, have told us that the machines have been broken and they don’t see how, at least in the immediate future, they can be fixed. So they are very concerned, the postal workers about this, because they don’t see a plan to actually fix what the Trump administration broke. The management that we talked to, said that, “They intend to replace what they broke.” Their plans to do that are uncertain to me. So, between those two renditions of reality, the right decision is to not trust that they are going to fulfill what they say they’re going to do, because 82% of the time this administration said something, it just hasn’t been true. So we need to have a judicial decree, ordering them to fix these machines. And until we get that, we will be appropriately skeptical.

Moderator: (30:25)
Joe, would you like to ask a follow up?

Joe: (30:27)
Yeah, follow up question. I’m looking at the “are not” chart that you’ve posted here. And we haven’t had either Eastern or Western Washington below one, since it looks like late May, before the state started opening back up. What do you think it’s going to take? And what more are you going to be able to do to drive those numbers back below one?

Governor Jay Inslee: (30:49)
Well, it’s more important what Washingtonians are going to do. And I am hopeful that their continued and increased uses of masks in all of their daily affairs, can hopefully get this number down below one. Now, as I’ve said, we’ve seen significant success in Yakima, where that has been the case. So, if we reach levels of performance like Yakima, we hope that this number can get down below one. Now, there’s two pieces of good news here. Number one, we’ve shown evidence that this works, it actually can reduce infections. The second piece of good news, is that we haven’t exhausted the times to wear a mask. That’s bad news because it means we haven’t done what we need to do, but the good news is there’s still room for improvement. So, we have a lot of room for improvement in our social lives. We still have thousands of infections that are occurring because people are enjoying the company of their families and their drinking buddies and their dates and people that they’re talking to.

Governor Jay Inslee: (31:54)
And they’re getting too close and they’re not wearing a mask and they’re enjoying life, which is very natural, and especially when the sun is out. But as a result, we’re having these infections. So, we just need to buckle down and have less physical interaction, particularly in our social settings. If we will do that, I believe we will get this number down under one. But this requires individuals to make decisions in their own lives that they’re going to save their families and themselves, and that they would want to be a protector instead of an infector. And when we go to a party with 20 other people in a house, we’re infectors without a mask and without social distancing, and that’s happening all over the state. We’ve seen the pictures, you’re an infector rather than a protector. So we’re hoping that more people will embrace that philosophy, and we’ll get these numbers to continue to come down.

Moderator: (32:55)
Next question comes from Keith with KOMO.

Keith: (32:58)
Governor, I asked Secretary Weisman this yesterday, is there consideration, since we’re not going to move up in phases, that you’re going to re-categorize some of the phases and move things from one, down to the lower phase, such as [bowling 00:00:33:11], moving from phase four down to phase two?

Governor Jay Inslee: (33:14)
Well, listen, we continue to look at these on a daily basis to determine what’s in the realm of the possible. We do not have any plans right now for shifting those because the numbers are too high. We’re still not below one. We’re still losing two dozen lives a day, which is so painful to so many families. So, we don’t believe that’s the right decision today, but we look at this on a daily basis to determine what the measures are that are possible. We also to continue to talk to businesses about their plans. And by the way, I want to thank business leaders in the state of Washington, they have been tremendously adhering to our order regarding masking. And this is just really good news for the state. We’ve got numbers from maybe 90/95% in many parts of our state, maybe only 70 and other places, but we hope that it will continue to grow.

Governor Jay Inslee: (34:09)
And we are so over this argument … or should be, so over this argument about masks, we know they work, they protect Republicans, Independents, and Democrats, and we’re just glad that we’re making progress on this. So thank you everybody, but we got to continue it.

Moderator: (34:25)
Keith, would you like to ask a follow up?

Keith: (34:28)
Yeah Governor, could you go further into the cause and effect, because you showed the graph where you put the mask edict into effect and it drove down the numbers. But it definitely, from your perspective, like in Yakima, you believe works.

Governor Jay Inslee: (34:41)
I’m sorry, I missed the last sentence-

Keith: (34:44)
So you have, like in Yakima, you saw a huge spike in the mask effects, order went into effect and it dropped dramatically.

Governor Jay Inslee: (34:53)
Yeah, could we put up the Yakima chart here? If we can get the Yakima chart up. So, what happened in Yakima, is they adopted a masking campaign much earlier than the rest of the state. And we were urging that because Yakima at that time in early July was the hottest spot by far in the state of Washington. So we urged the community, I went over there and met with the local leaders, business leaders, Ag leaders, hospital leaders, and we urged a very vigorous masking effort. And that happened, not just because of my efforts, but local leaders were also pitching in. And so, as the masking increased, the infections decreased. So, our epidemiologists have tried to figure out if there’s another thing to ascribe that decrease to other than masking. For instance, they looked at mobility data. Mobility data is when you look at cell phone data to determine how much people are traveling, therefore interacting.

Governor Jay Inslee: (36:02)
And they wondered if the mobility went down and that, that was a reason for the decrease and they found it, no, that was not the situation. So, mobility appears not to have been the reason for this decrease. And the only thing that’s really changed, is this masking initiative and the con commitment perhaps understanding that when we see a mask, it makes us think that maybe we need to continue our social distancing as well. So, there’s strong evidence that this has been successful in Yakima. And again, it’s a good news that the whole rest of state hopefully could replicate this. Now, every county’s a little different, and this is one of the things that I think it’s going to be interesting when we get more science on this. And it also appears that at least to me, that places that have seen a very rapid decline like Yakima, are places that have had very high numbers. This has been the evidence in New York, Arizona, and Yakima.

Governor Jay Inslee: (37:04)
So, I think there’s something about it being very high, which actually gives it an easier time to come down at a faster rate. So, we may not come down as fast in other places with lower numbers to begin with, but there’s every reason to believe we can come down and that’s good news. And relative to other parts of the country, we have been relatively successful. This morning I checked, and we were in the bottom 10 states out of 50, as to our infections per capita. But that’s just, we’ve got to take that with a big grain of salt, because this thing can just spring back at you and it has another states.

Moderator: (37:48)
Next question comes from Jerry with the Everett Herald.

Jerry: (37:53)
Governor and the secretary, we spent … a few weeks ago, we’ve been … for a few weeks now, Secretary Weisman has been telling us that the information for contact tracing and the populations at higher risk, that the data is being collected. If you’re not going to post that data, why not just remove those [inaudible 00:38:14] from the dashboard? Why let the public think that data will be published?

John Wiesman: (38:21)
So listen Tom, we do indeed intend to publish it. We’re just trying to get all of our health departments to be able to report and share that. So in good faith, we are trying to get the best information we can to folks and be able to report. But as I said, the range is anywhere from 30% to 100% being able to be contacted within those 24 hours that we’re looking for.

Moderator: (38:53)
Jerry, would you like to ask a follow up?

Jerry: (38:56)
Here, please. Thank you. Governor, on the postal service, I wondered that the secretary of state and several nonpartisan-

Jerry: (39:02)
… the secretary of state and several nonpartisan county auditors have expressed confidence, have met with postal service folks and say that they are confident that the postal service will be able to handle the volume of mail for this fall’s election. I wonder if you might respond to why they believe things can go forward under the current system and why you don’t

Governor Jay Inslee: (39:28)
Well, maybe I’ve dealt with Donald Trump a little bit more, and I’ve had them lie to us repeatedly, and he’s used political gamesmanship to suppress the vote every chance he gets, and he’s admitted that he’s trying to do that, and we don’t know what he’s going to do tomorrow. What he’s telling us today could change tomorrow. We need a judicial decree ordering him to not disable the postal service, and anything less than that in my book will create too much uncertainty. Now, there are some things that, that I still remain, even with their latest comment, I’m not satisfied because they still haven’t …

Governor Jay Inslee: (40:09)
They warned us. This is what’s amazing about this. They told us they were going to disable this system. They said they were going to make changes that would slow down the mail. They sent a warning to the states. They sent a warning to us that they were going to slow down their service, so that essentially they would no longer guarantee that our ballots would be delivered as first class mail. So when they warn you they’re going to do it, it seems to me you ought to get a judicial decree to protect you, and that’s what we are seeking.

Speaker 2: (40:44)
Next question comes from Tom with Northwest News Network.

Tom: (40:48)
Governor, can you elaborate a little more on the unemployment supplemental benefit? Do you feel any urgency to green light the state’s application for that to get the ball rolling, given that unemployed people in our state, the many hundreds of thousands, are right now getting no settlement, and $300 probably for them will be a lot better than nothing.

Governor Jay Inslee: (41:10)
Well, yes. We’d like to make that decision one way or another in the next few days for two reasons. One, we’d like, if it’s going to take weeks or longer to get this system because the way the president set it up, a whole new system has to be set up to determine the eligibility for this benefit. That’s going to slow this down. So because he slowed it down, the earlier we could start it, the better. Second, it’s a first come first serve arrangement for a discrete pot of money that is available in the FEMA appropriation, and once it’s gone, it’s gone, so it would make sense to get the application in a timely basis.

Governor Jay Inslee: (41:51)
But we do need some further clarity from the administration about what the rules really are. We hope to have that as early as today or tomorrow, so we do want to make this decision relatively rapidly. But I just can’t finish a sentence without reminding people that this is short changing the American people. It’s cutting this benefit in half. It’ll last maybe a fifth as long, and we don’t know for sure when it’s going to be available, so that is not acceptable. We need Congress to act.

Speaker 2: (42:24)
Tom, would you like to ask a follow up?

Tom: (42:27)
Yeah. Just on a slightly different or actually fairly different subject, governor, has your office or have you heard from Whatcom County border communities about the newly extended closure of the US-Canada border to non-essential crossings and the disruption that’s caused? Have any concerns come to you, particularly, for example, from the isolated enclave of Point Roberts and whether the state can do anything to help?

Governor Jay Inslee: (42:55)
I have not spoken to those communities, and I probably should listen to see if they have any ideas. We’re at the mercy of the federal governments on both sides of the border largely on this, so you raise something that I should look into, and I will ask them if they have any creative ideas. I was just told that our staff has talked to them. I have not done so personally. The last time I spoke to the British Columbia leadership, we could not think of a way to resolve this problem. That was two or three weeks ago. So at the moment I don’t have a solution, but we should all try to be creative to find one. By the way, there’s something I forgot to mention about unemployment insurance. The president has said this is a $400 a week program, but that’s double counting the hundred dollars that we already give for unemployment compensation, so it’s really only a $300 additional benefit potentially, so it’s half. It’s not-two thirds.

Speaker 2: (44:05)
We have time for a few more questions. Next one comes from Alexis with The News Tribune.

Alexis: (44:08)
Yeah. Governor, what is the possibility of the Seahawks having fans in any home games in Seattle this season? Any foreseeable change in restrictions by October?

Governor Jay Inslee: (44:20)
Well, it’s not something we discussed recently. John, do you have any insights on that?

John Wiesman: (44:27)
Yeah. I think our priority really is getting our rates down to that 25 per 100, as we said, so we can get kids back in school. We really think that’s are our main priority as we’re looking at this, and as we are able to achieve that, we may be able to look at the other things also reasonably. So yeah, the governor and I haven’t had specific conversations about this recently, but I know that we’re really focused on wanting to return our kids school, and that’s really where we’re putting our energies.

Governor Jay Inslee: (45:02)
I have to say that the Mariners have been quite creative, creating a crowd noise tableau and people in the stands. I threw out the first pitch with the Mariners a couple of weeks ago, and I thought people were applauding. Kind of broke my heart when I found out it was just prerecorded tape, but I think it’s been a creative way to do it. I will just offer one observation. As we’re thinking about our restrictions in our lives, our goal is to get our kids back in onsite instruction, and if it’s a choice between some of our activities that would increase the infection rate or getting kids back to school, getting them back into school buildings really has to be the priority.

Speaker 2: (45:49)
Alexis, would you like to ask a follow up?

Alexis: (45:55)
Yes. I’m wondering how much of a role small social gatherings are playing in the spread at the moment? Is it more large social gatherings, or do you think smaller social gatherings are still having a significant role in the spread?

Governor Jay Inslee: (46:11)
John, do you want to address that?

John Wiesman: (46:15)
Yeah. I think the end of those gatherings that are fewer in nature, and if you’re in a phase two county, we’re asking folks not to gather any more than five people during any given week. Those certainly restrict some of what we might call those larger events where more people might be exposed. But we are seeing that some of these are, the gatherings of 15, 20, 30 people, that we’re seeing these parties, as the governor, for example, was referencing as particularly concerning. And then of course some of this is also around at what point in time people might be at a party infectious, and again, the time when people can be infectious is as much as two days or so before you develop symptoms.

John Wiesman: (47:04)
So again, people can feel great and think they’re just fine, go to an event where they think they aren’t going to harm anyone, and then two days later come down with the symptoms of COVID and actually realize that they’ve exposed to people to this virus. That’s why we’re asking people not to, in these kinds of social events, not to be closer than six feet and why wearing face coverings is so important. Because again, I could be infected today, not realize it, but at least my face covering will help prevent me from putting those droplets in the air and potentially exposing others. So to your question, it’s these events that are probably in the 10, 15, 20, 30 people or more that are particularly concerning. And again, we need everybody to do their part to keep everybody safe.

Speaker 2: (48:02)
Final question comes from Luke from The Yakima Herald.

Luke: (48:06)
Yeah. Hi. Just asking about Yakima. I know during this time, we’ve gotten some modifications to the phase one as that the Department of Health has approved opening some other things. Would you expect that to continue if the numbers keep dropping?

John Wiesman: (48:21)
We continue to work with Yakima, Benton, Franklin and [inaudible 00:48:26] Douglas Counties on their modified phase one approaches. We’ve been meeting with them weekly and meet with them again today, and we are looking to try and get to a place where we can get them all on the same modified phase. There are different things that are allowed in different counties there, so we’re working with their Health Department folks and their elected official on really trying to think those things up. But as we know, the governor has appropriately put a pause on moving to additional phases. That conversation really is around those activities than a modified phase one plan and a safe third plan.

Speaker 2: (49:11)
Luke, would you like to ask a followup?

Luke: (49:15)
Yeah. So I understand there’s a long way to go. I mean, can Yakima County be confident that if they get to the criteria to move to the next phase that we’re able to do that, or how much should that depend on the rest of the state?

Governor Jay Inslee: (49:29)
Well, I wish I could give you a categorical black or white answer to that question. What I would say is definitely as we improve, we’ve all got prospects to open up more businesses. That’s the fundamental question. But on the other hand, there is some relationship of counties that you have to look at, and if one County meets a certain threshold, but you find out that they’re surrounded by counties with five times as much infection, you at least have to be aware of that. One thing I will say is we want to tip our hats to Yakima, what they’re doing. It’s showing progress. We’ve got to realize that as we continue to see progress, we can see more opening over time. I can’t tell you when that is or even exactly what the circumstances are, but we’re making this much progress. Let’s keep going.

Speaker 2: (50:18)
Any final words, Governor?

Governor Jay Inslee: (50:19)
Well, again, thank you very much. Please wash your hands and mask up. Be well.

Gov. Jay Inslee, joined by Dr. Kathy Lofy, State Health Officer and Sec. John Wiesman, Department of Health, will address the media today at 10:30 am to give an update on the state's response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Posted by Governor Jay Inslee on Thursday, August 20, 2020