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News >  Spokane

‘We need to seize our own destiny’: Inslee tries to mobilize state businesses, including Spokane Valley firm

UPDATED: Wed., April 1, 2020

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (Elaine Thompson / AP)
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (Elaine Thompson / AP)
By Jim Camden and Thomas Clouse The Spokesman-Review

Washington manufacturers, including one in Spokane Valley, could sign up to make the equipment needed to beat the COVID-19 pandemic the way a previous generation of state residents retooled to win World War II, Gov. Jay Inslee said Wednesday.

The governor made a plea for any company that has the equipment to help make masks, hospital gowns, face shields, gloves or the parts needed for coronavirus test kits to sign up and change its production line.

The state set up a special page on its website for companies to sign up to help.

Although the state is seeing at least a temporary slowing in the rate of increase in COVID-19 cases, medical facilities, nursing homes and first responders are experiencing shortages of personal protective equipment, or PPE.

“The federal government has not been able to supply them fast enough. We need to seize our own destiny,” said Inslee, noting that during World War II, Washington manufacturers retooled to produce bombers and Navy ships.

Inslee mentioned S2 Media in Spokane Valley, which is making media for the vials in COVID-19 test kits, as one company that might be able to contribute to the effort.

He brought up S2 again and another company, Outdoor Research, in a later appearance on “The Rachel Maddow Show.”

Stephanie Bernards, who is one of three owners and executive director of S2 Media, said her company makes the media, or liquid, in which testers place nose swabs. The liquid preserves the swabs while they are transferred from a testing site to a lab for analysis.

The company makes other media that is used at biology labs, water-testing facilities, pharmaceutical companies and food-testing sites in the Pacific Northwest and the rest of the country, she said.

“We have been working with the Department of Health prior to today’s conference,” Bernards said. “We are not under contract. We just fill orders as they come.”

The company, which was founded in 2015, already has the capacity to make 40,000 vials per week.

“We are looking to be able to increase that in the near future,” she said. “It’s very exciting to be able to help in this situation.”

Even with the added business for coronavirus tests, Bernards said, the company will fill all other customer orders.

“We have been trying to keep under the radar, until today,” she said.

Inslee and other governors have urged President Donald Trump to use the Defense Production Act to mobilize the manufacture of protective equipment, but Trump has limited its use for producing ventilators.

“Every state is short. We are all in the same soup,” Inslee said.

Outdoor Research, which makes outdoor gear for sports enthusiasts and the military, is retooling its lines to make surgical masks, said owner Dan Nordstrom, who joined Inslee in a video news conference.

They spent money and made commitments without knowing who they’d sell the masks to but now expect to be turning out 150,000 or more masks a day by the end of April.

“We all just agreed it’s the right thing to do, regardless,” Nordstrom said.

About 60 manufacturers across Washington have agreed to to make needed medical supplies and many more want to sign up, Kris Johnson of the Association of Washington Business said.

Distilleries and wineries are making hand sanitizer with their alcohol, and a Mukilteo company is making masks.

The governor has mobilized 130 National Guard members to help replace a shortage of volunteers at some food banks around the state. While more Guard members might be called up for help with traffic, logistics or security of temporary hospital units, he does not expect them to be used to enforce the stay-home order for people not involved in essential work.

The order has exceptions for going to get food or gas. It also allows for people to get outside to exercise, as long as they observe “social distancing” rules for staying at least 6 feet away from anyone with whom they don’t live.

That order is scheduled to expire Monday for Washington residents and next Wednesday for workers. But Inslee said it will likely be extended “in the next couple days.”

The stay-home order, social distancing rules and other efforts may be slowing the rate of increase of cases in Washington overall, Inslee said. But there are also accelerations in that rate outside the Puget Sound, including in Adams, Benton and Clark counties.

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