May 27, 2020

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee Press Conference Transcript May 27

Jay Inslee WA May 27 Press Conference
RevBlogTranscriptsCOVID-19 Briefing & Press Conference TranscriptsWashington Gov. Jay Inslee Press Conference Transcript May 27

Washington governor Jay Inslee provided a COVID-19 press briefing on May 27. Inslee detailed how Washington state‘s religious services & houses of worship can begin to meet.


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Jay Inslee: (05:26)
Good afternoon. When this COVID crisis began, we knew the only way we would have to fight in the first battle against this virus, was to essentially prevent us gathering. We knew this would be a challenging time. We knew that we would all have to find new creative ways to go about our lives, so that we could jointly attempt to corral and suppress this deadly virus. And we know that in Washingtonian, many Washingtonians, their way is a way of the spirit. We know that people treasure religious gatherings. So this has been a difficult issue about how we simultaneously defeat this virus and maintain our congregations.

Jay Inslee: (06:12)
And as I’ve said before, this crisis may affect our physical connections, but we should not allow it to stop our emotional connections. And that is one reason why we deliberately meet our prohibitions in this area flexible as to meet the needs of different organizations. So I’m pleased today to announce that we will be able to ease some of the restrictions on religious gatherings, in a safe way as our state continues on this journey forward. During this time, in the last couple of months, it has been very heartening to see religious congregations find ways to remain emotionally connected through electronics and otherwise. It’s also been really inspiring to see many of these organizations be very active in helping their neighbors, not just those that are in their congregations. But today I’m pleased to be able to announce the new, additional guidance for religious groups, both in phase one and phase two of our plan to reopen Washington.

Jay Inslee: (07:19)
I’m joined today by three religious leaders, who will have some comments they’re Aneelah Afzali, he’s Executive Director of the American Muslim Empowerment Network of Puget Sound, Rabbi Yosef Schtroks of the Chabad Jewish Center of Olympia, and Bishop Shelley Bryan Wee of the Northwest Washington Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Jay Inslee: (07:45)
Now we’re going to announce some measures, but I do want to encourage people if they can continue their creative ways of congregating that have been successful for them already, that would be great.

Jay Inslee: (07:58)
So here’s what our new guidance would state. For in-person services, the following activities with the appropriate health guidance can be safe to begin with. The first one in phase one, and essentially, this would be allowed throughout the state of Washington right now. So right now in phase one, outdoor religious services can be held on the organization’s property or immediately adjacent, up to 100 individuals using face coverings. And congregations will be able to do this multiple times during the day.

Jay Inslee: (08:37)
For areas of the state that are now in phase two, and that is increasing, indoor religious services will be held at 25% capacity of the facility or 50 individuals; whichever is less, again with face coverings. And again, that can be multiple times during the day. Also, for those counties that are currently in phase two, in home services or counseling at a person’s residence with five total individuals or less, are now going to go forward. And if these gatherings include people from outside one’s household, everyone involved should wear face coverings. Now these numbers exclude staff, not volunteers are needed to run the service.

Jay Inslee: (09:23)
There are some broad aspects of this weld. The religious services covered in these new guidance, include all worship services, religious study classes, religious ceremonies, religious holiday celebrations, weddings, and funerals. This also means there’s no limit, as I’ve said, on the number of these events that could be held throughout the day.

Jay Inslee: (09:45)
Now, there are certain parts of our services we need to defer for the moment, including some choirs. Singing in the congregation is allowed, but with face coverings. And this is because the science has been pretty clear on this, that this virus is transmitted according.

Jay Inslee: (10:03)
Clear on this, that this virus is transmitted of course, through our exhalations. And the louder we project our voices, the farther this virus travels. So we’re also encouraging congregations to see if they can maintain a voluntary log of attendees at these services and try to retain it for a couple of weeks. This is volunteer for the folks who want to volunteer their information. And the reason for that is if an outbreak occurs and we have seen this, unfortunately in our churches, certainly we saw it in Skagit County, this information can be really critical to help these congregates get knowledge about their potential exposure so that they can protect themselves and their families as soon as possible. We think that makes sense because I think it’s common to the texts of all faiths that we have an obligation to care for one another. We have seen a lot of creativity. We know that will continue and we have found ways for organizations that can meet the safe way of meeting. And we appreciate the things that have been going on already. Now, there are some things that make common sense and follow the science right now that we’re asking folks to abide with. First, of course, we need physical distancing, and that means that we really need a full six feet between pews and between seats in all directions or where people stand and they need to be identified by markings to help people really understand the distance we need to keep for each other during the services. And, of course, we need to wear face coverings. We need to make sure that employees are educated about COVID-19 and how to prevent transmission, and that includes teaching employees how to self-screen for symptoms so that people don’t come in as an employee of the church and unwittingly spread this virus.

Jay Inslee: (12:03)
Organizations will need to cordon off, clean and disinfect areas where someone who has had potentially COVID-19 has been positive have been, and there are some good CDC guidelines about how to go about that. We also need organizations to provide the personal protective of equipment for their employees and ensure hand washing and frequent house cleaning to sanitize facility. Soap and running water works with all faiths, I’m told.

Jay Inslee: (12:31)
So there are additional details in the guidance we’re releasing today but that’s a quick run through. And now I’d like to turn to some comments to [Anila 00:12:41], [Yosef 00:12:43] and [Shelly 00:02:41], and let’s see, would Anila start our comments? We’re starting with Anila? Anila, thank you for joining us and thanks for your help with the broader community. We had many discussions and we appreciate this, our discussions with all the faith communities.

Anila: (13:00)
Absolutely. Thank you so much Governor Inslee for your leadership and As-salamu alaykum, peace be upon everybody. My name is Anila [Absali 00:13:08] and I’m with the Muslim association of Puget sound or MAPS, and also on the Faith Action Network Board. Based in Redmond, MAPS is the largest Islamic center in Washington, serving over 5,000 families across Puget Sound. The Muslim community recently completed the beautiful month of Ramadan. We celebrated Eid. Our mosques are usually bustling with activity during these times with people praying, breaking fast together and celebrating. This year, of course, was very different. We missed out on so much of the communal aspects of these blessed days, even though we did what we could with the restrictions.

Anila: (13:48)
MAPS was the first mosque in the nation to make the difficult decision to cancel our Friday services. And we did so recognizing that we don’t worship our places of worship. We worship God and we are commanded to preserve life and uphold community wellbeing. The Quran states that if anyone saves a life, it shall be as though they saved all of humanity. And of course, there is a strong desire among Muslims to return to our mosques. Our hearts are longing for that, but we want to do so in a safe way without sacrificing the most vulnerable. So we welcome the new guidelines today as a step in that direction and we look forward to continuing work with the governor’s office and County officials to preserve human life and health as we find ways to safely reopen our places of worship. We cannot wait to be in phases two, three, and four Inshallah, God-willing.

Anila: (14:51)
But in the meantime, because our faith values also manifest in service, we continue helping our neighbors in need. Like other mosques and Muslim relief organizations, MAPS through our MCRC program has been providing crisis relief, including distributing over 85,000 pounds of food to the hungry, providing over 125,000 in rent and utility help, free virtual medical services and more, and we will continue to do that. We stand ready and committed to do our part to support safety for all and serve the greater good. We’re also contemplating how to emerge from this crisis in a way that ensures a new, better reality for everybody because normal was not okay for so many people. And with that recognition, I send prayers to some of the most vulnerable right now, including those in prison or detention, those who lost their income, those who are not covered by relief packages, the frontline essential workers and those directly infected with COVID as well as of course the governor and his team and other leaders as they navigate us out of this crisis. May faith, wisdom and heart guide us all through this. Thank you very much.

Jay Inslee: (16:17)
Thank you Anila. Yosef.

Yosef: (16:17)
Thank you. Thank you very much, Governor Inslee. Thank you Anila. Thank you Governor Inslee for your bold leadership throughout this entire ordeal, being so dedicated to the preservation of life and sparing no efforts to keep all Washingtonians safe and healthy. One of the things that this pandemic has brought to the forefront is the inherent and equal importance of every individual. The Torah, the Bible teaches that when God created the world, all other species, animals, plants, et cetera, were created in herds by the hundreds and thousands. But the human was the only one that was created alone. And that teaches us that every person is like an entire world. And as the great spiritual leader of the Lubavitcher Rebbe of saintly memory once explained that within each individual stands the entirety of the community because the community is only complete when it is constituted by all its individuals each with their own unique qualities, abilities and contributions.

Yosef: (17:08)
And in the giant community that is our great state of Washington, as we face the crisis, it was inspiring to see, especially under your leadership, Governor Inslee, how we all went to great lengths, closing our businesses, schools, and even houses of worship in order to save the lives of individuals. We may not know them personally, irrespective of who they are because after all, we each share a divine spark. Every person in our great state is an entire world.

Yosef: (17:33)
My wife [Rivka 00:17:34] and I are blessed to co-direct the Chabad Jewish center in the Olympia area and we serve as the representatives of Kabbalah [inaudible 00:17:39] here in the state capital, and your announcement today brings us great joy as it is indicative that hopefully the worst is behind us and it will enable our community to resume many of the core communal rituals that are central to our faith and will enable us to draw good energies from one another, help us heal together while still maintaining utmost care to ensure everyone’s health and safety. And I imagine the news will similarly be received with great happiness by our sister communities around the state, especially with the timing of today’s proclamation, being just a few short days ahead of the major Jewish holiday of Shavuot. On Shavuot, we relive the giving of the Torah, the Bible on Mount Sinai 3,332 years ago through an annual public communal reading of the 10 commandments. Of course, that couldn’t have been possible this year without the decision you share today.

Yosef: (18:22)
We plan in our congregation to go a little further than the framework you set in place today and to add a few extra precautions, to be extra cautious, and my colleagues, the Jewish communities across the state, tell me that they will be doing the same based on their unique local needs or concerns. But at the same time, we remain steadfast in our commitment to be there in any way we can for the home bound and most vulnerable among us who are weathering this prolonged and challenging isolation, because although we may be physically separated, we are united as a community.

Yosef: (18:51)
I’m deeply grateful to you, Governor Inslee and your entire team. Those I interacted with [Rochelle Davis 00:00:18:55],[Dante Payne 00:08:55], and I’m sure so many others who invested so much effort towards enabling a safe reopening of spiritual services. And may God bless you governor with endless strength as you lead the battalions of elected leaders, public servants, frontline healthcare providers, first responders, and essential workers in the fight against the coronavirus. And may God bless this great state of Washington and all of its residents with health, life and prosperity, amen.

Jay Inslee: (19:17)
Thank you Joseph. Before Shelly speaks, you just made me think of something I want to say and that is that one of the great things about what the faith communities are doing here by acting safely, obviously they’re protecting their own flock, their own congregation, and the people who are in the faith facility with them, but they’re protecting everybody outside of multiple faiths. When a person in the Hebrew faith wears a mask that prevents the transmission from going out that then ends up infecting a Catholic or a Muslim or any other faith, this is all truly an all faiths issue because everything we do in the church is protecting everyone else of whatever faith or without faith without the broader community. And that’s why I appreciate the response-

Jay Inslee: (20:03)
Or without faith without the broader community and that’s why I appreciate the responsibility that has been shown by so many people in the faith communities with that, Shelly.

Shelly: (20:12)
Thank you. God speed be with you. Like so many faith communities we in the Christian Church yearn to be back together again. As a pastor and as a Bishop, my calling has been to gather faithful people and share the message of Jesus Christ. I did not accept God’s call to ministry in order to tell people to not enter church buildings. But this is a strange time. As one of three Lutheran bishops in the state of Washington serving in the evangelical Lutheran church in America, partnering with over 300 congregations, we continue to wrestle with how we are the church in the world today. You see, as Christians care of neighbor is what frames our daily walk with Jesus. As leaders in order to uphold the sanctity of life and protect the most vulnerable we need to take into account that what is safe in one part of Washington is not safe in other parts.

Shelly: (21:08)
We have to hold intention, liberty and safety. Governor Inslee I thank you so much for your careful work in establishing guidelines. And I know this has been difficult for you with the many voices you have been hearing. I think that what you are recommending holds the desire to gather and to be safe well. I would caution that as these guidelines are followed, we need to be mindful of the numbers of cases of COVID in the part of the state that we are in, the ages of the people who are worshiping and the best practices established by the scientific community so that our worshiping communities do not spread this virus further. In the Northwest part of Washington where I serve, which includes the most cases of COVID deaths in the state, I will prayerfully continue to encourage online worship. And I will patiently wait with expectation and anticipation for the day we can all gather safely in person again, when all can gather from the most healthy to the most vulnerable.

Shelly: (22:15)
And we fill church buildings to overflowing again. I faithfully believe this is true. I strongly encourage that as people begin to gather again using the governor’s guidelines, that good protocols are in place so that all are protected. As Christians we’re committed to following Jesus Christ, loving our neighbor and we continue to be informed by the scientific community. Remember my Christian sisters and brothers, we are being the church now, we are worshiping now, we are loving our neighbor now, we are the body of Christ now, we are being church in the world now and God’s spirit is here. May all that we say and do reflect the love of Jesus Christ. Thank you.

Jay Inslee: (23:06)
Thank you very much I appreciate it. I should note that this guidance followed many conversations with multiple congregations in the faith community. And I found a commonality in the discussions with them because regardless of their faith, they all share a commitment to their fellow people in the state of Washington, which we appreciate. So with that, happy to stand for some questions.

Jay Inslee: (23:36)
Oh yes, no, I think there’s a few more things the state needs to know about before we stand for questions. First off, I just want to make sure people know that our department of health has approved seven more counties to move forward to phase two. This morning that was added to that group Thurston Walla Walla and Kittitas. That means that 24 counties have been able to transition to phase two in our four-part safe start recovery plan. Clallam, Kitsap and Klickitat are eligible to apply. They have not applied for a step forward we think that may be forthcoming. The variance application for Clark County remains on a pause for further discussion because they’ve had an ongoing outbreak investigation that we are in the middle of taking a look at that County. We hope things are able to improve.

Jay Inslee: (24:26)
We remain hard at work determining our next steps forward as a state on June one. We’re going to have more details to share with you in the days to come. But I do as we’ve been clear now for some period of time, we do not believe that every County will be able to move forward phase two on that particular date. We’ll have more to say about this in the next few days. We know we’ve made tremendous progress in our state. We remain united and I look forward to continue to be united in this step forward in our state’s onward quest. With that happy to stand for some questions.

Speaker 2: (25:03)
First question comes from Rachel with AP.

Rachel: (25:04)
Sir looking at the phasing process, some counties that are still in phase one like Skagit County have argued that the state’s eligibility metric makes it impossible for them to advance and that the metrics should be based on evidence of broad community transmission and not include cases related to close familial contacts or clusters like nursing homes. So are you considering broadening those metrics for some of those counties as we move forward? And then also related to the guidance you just issued if there currently isn’t a statewide requirement for face coverings for places like grocery stores, why require them at religious services?

Jay Inslee: (25:45)
Yes. Well, we’re going to have more to say about face coverings probably either Thursday or Friday. So we will be having some requirements for enterprises to encourage the use of face covering in retail establishments. This is very important because the science is now becoming abundantly clear that face coverings can really help reduce transmission. They can help make sure that when I wear a face covering, I protect you. And as you know when you wear a face covering you protect me. And so this is a demonstration of our commitment to our neighbors and the folks in our grocery stores to wear a face covering as a substantial benefits. So we’ll have more to say about that probably Thursday or Friday. We do know that facilities in our faith communities can be very right for transmission. We saw dozens of people in one choir practice in Skagit County in part because we know that singing is a very vibrant activity that moves that virus around where people are close to one another for sometimes an hour or more. Unlike retail establishments where it’s a little shorter period of time.

Jay Inslee: (26:59)
So it is a little different environment. And we’re finding that people who want to follow the science realize that this is simply a simple thing that we can do. And it ought not to be a partisan thing either. I’ve been inspired by Republican governors DeWine in Ohio and other Republican governors who have said look, this is just a common sense thing this is not an ideological statement, it is a statement of caring for your neighbors. So that’s our thinking on this. As far as broadening the criteria, we may have more to say in the future. But today we’ve established some criteria as we go early, there could be changes at a later date we are still considering those.

Jay Inslee: (27:48)
We look at this science literally on a daily basis. Yesterday we had our most recent briefing from the Institute for disease modeling, which was very helpful. There was some good news in that and we are still continuing to think about the criteria going forward. So it is possible that there will be some changes and those changes will be based on science that we’re still learning literally on a daily basis. So we’ll have more to say about that in the upcoming days.

Speaker 2: (28:19)
Next question comes from Joe with the Seattle Times.

Joe: (28:22)
Two part question governor, number one, do you stand by your employment security department commissioner Suzi Levine in light of the hundreds of millions of dollars last year to fraud groups in unemployment payouts? And number two, has there been any discussion about having some counties like King County or Snohomish or Pierce make their own decisions starting June one or after to when it’s safe to reopen?

Jay Inslee: (28:47)
Well, what I stand against is the moral outrage of this international conspiracy that turned the virus of COVID into the virus of crime. And these criminals deserve our scorn and our condemnation and our righteous anger, and they ought to be pursued and they will be. And the department now is involved in a very vigorous effort, they’ve taken quite a number of measures which obviously we don’t disclose so that the criminals don’t learn about our activities. But I can tell you that they’ve been very vigorous. There has been some success in the over hundreds of millions of dollars that have already been recovered because of these vigorous efforts. And we thank some of the law enforcement activity that’s been involved in that. We know that we are not the only state that has been attacked unfortunately. And we know that not only are these people to be lambasted with the strongest language we can imagine for taking public money, but also because they’ve delayed our [inaudible 00:29:55] Tens of thousands [inaudible 00:29:59] right now. [inaudible 00:30:02] unemployment.

Jay Inslee: (30:00)
… right now who are waiting to get unemployment. That process has been delayed, not because of the 10 [inaudible 00:30:07], but because of the necessity of vetting each criminal. Now, I [inaudible 00:30:13].

Jay Inslee: (30:27)
Got another question about… What’s your question?

Community Member 1: (30:47)
[inaudible 00:30:47] discussions about having individual counties [inaudible 00:30:47]?

Jay Inslee: (30:48)
Well, in some sense, the [inaudible 00:30:48] restrictions. They do have that ability. In fact, we [inaudible 00:30:57] Kittitas County to move [inaudible 00:30:58] could maintain their own health restrictions would be more risk, so the [inaudible 00:31:05].

Jay Inslee: (31:18)
The difficulty of this, I think, for all of us or many of us, [inaudible 00:31:23]. We have knocked down the fatalities. Fatality is a tragedy. We’ve reduced that significantly. We’ve seen the rate of fatalities go down. We’ve had a little reduction in the rate of infections and a little reduction of the rate of people who are hospitalized, but the evidence remains clear that this can spring back very quickly. Just today I read, it may have been in your newspaper, Joe, about some assessments about the King County situation, which is to some degree, the true in many counties across the state, that as we remove the social distancing, we need to effectively replace that with another weapon. And that weapon is the weapon of testing, contact tracing, and isolation. And we need to make sure that those weapons are in place and usable at the same time that we remove these social distancing rules. So the state, appropriately, is making sure that we have that in place as we move through these phases, and we are doing that.

Jay Inslee: (32:32)
So, I think that we are on the money. We’ve made substantial progress. We have many counties right now… I don’t know the exact percentage, but it is a significant proportion of our state that are now… We have 24 counties now that are transitioning to phase two and several in the process of making [inaudible 00:32:54] or applications. We’re making real progress in our state. That should not be forgotten.

Moderator: (33:01)
Next question comes from [inaudible 00:33:02].

Community Member 2: (33:04)
Yeah, so two questions, Governor. On unemployment, for people who are being told that it’s going to take months for them to get their unemployment checks, but the work that they do now, what’s the state doing [inaudible 00:33:16] now?

Community Member 2: (33:16)
Second question. It’s there in the first amendment of the Constitution. Why did [inaudible 00:33:21] have the right to regulate religious institutions?

Jay Inslee: (33:31)
Well, we’re doing everything possible to [inaudible 00:33:46] not been able to get their unemployment compensation. I don’t want to [inaudible 00:33:46] that at all. [inaudible 00:33:47]. So, we’re trying to do everything possible, increasing the capacity of the department, to process these claims. And unfortunately, many of the claims come in with information that make them raise questions about whether they’re legitimate claims, and so that’s an adjudication process, it’s quite labor intensive, where people have to ask questions and get them answered to figure out if those claims really ought to be paid.

Jay Inslee: (34:26)
So what the department is doing is dramatically increasing their capacity to do that. They’ve hired about 500 people already in the last few weeks, with another 300 coming on in the next couple of weeks, I believe, to have more people to adjudicate these claims. They’ve also come up with a plan to go through the administrative personnel and the technical support personnel that are necessary to significantly increase the capacity to process these claims. I just saw the dashboard [inaudible 00:34:59] out of those efforts today. It’s very comprehensive, and it involves hundreds of people.

Jay Inslee: (35:05)
Now this frustration, let’s recognize why this frustration exists. It exists because we got hit by an unprecedented event that has not happened in the [inaudible 00:35:19], which has increased the number of claims by a factor of 10, a factor of 10. And I think people, even though it’s frustrating, hope can understand that, that’s going to present us all with difficulties. So, I just want to tell you, this is intensely a priority for me, and I make sure that we do everything we can to increase that capacity as quickly as we can.

Jay Inslee: (35:44)
Now, the department has also done some things from a technical standpoint to increase its capacity. One of those things is to bifurcate the input of email, and other traffic that comes in, between those who simply ask questions and those who have claims, so that we can have a more intense usage of personnel to help those people who really have claims. So, I spoke to Susie [Levine 00:36:14] this morning about that. She thinks there’s going to be signi-

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