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News >  Washington

As businesses reopen, Inslee urges feds to increase PPE supply

June 10, 2020 Updated Wed., June 10, 2020 at 11:34 p.m.

In this  (Elaine Thompson)
In this (Elaine Thompson)
By Laurel Demkovich The Spokesman-Review

OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee sent a letter Wednesday to Vice President Mike Pence urging the federal government to address nationwide shortages of personal protective equipment.

The letter called for a comprehensive assessment of protection needs across the country, better federal guidance for workers and employers safely reconfiguring their business, and a replenishment of the federal stockpile.

“The Trump administration has been unable and unwilling to take the really necessary and available steps to really develop a national domestic manufacturing base for these products,” Inslee said.

The letter comes as some counties in Eastern Washington, including Spokane and Yakima, experience slight spikes in case counts due to increased testing and new outbreaks .

On Wednesday, Spokane County health officials reported 14 new cases, for a total of 788 cases countywide. There are nine people currently in the hospital with COVID-19, and 37 county residents have died from the disease.

Statewide, there are more than 24,300 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 1,176 people have died from the virus.

“These challenges we face are significant but not insurmountable,” Inslee said. “Our state and our nation can rise to this moment.”

The federal government has consistently denied Inslee’s requests in the past, he said.

Inslee said he has not seen evidence of proper use of the Defense Production Act, which allows the federal government to direct private companies to prioritize its orders for supplies.

Residents need adequate supplies to let businesses reopen safely, Inslee said. To do so, the state is increasing its stockpile and the number of residents receiving supplies.

Businesses can submit requests for equipment to their county emergency authority, which will receive the equipment from the state stockpile. Homeless shelters, long-term care facilities, child care facilities and first responders are among those who apply for materials.

As of Monday, the state had 5 million N95 masks on hand, with another 50 million ordered. Inslee said he is in talks to build an in-state supply system for these products using Washington-based manufacturers.

Reed Schuler, a policy advisor for Inslee, said the state is looking into opportunities to make large-scale purchases for personal protective equipment to assist businesses with higher-risk workers.

In particular, Schuler said the aim is to provide equipment that is in a “gray zone” – not quite an easy-to-find cloth face mask and not quite a higher risk N95 mask.

Spokane County Commissioners recently approved using $1 million in federal funding to purchase equipment, such as gloves, masks and hand sanitizer, that will be distributed to businesses for free.

The program allows businesses or nonprofits with fewer than 49 employees to reserve items ahead of time and pick them up.

As a way to encourage the wearing of masks, Inslee announced a new nonprofit effort called #wearamaskWA, an online initiative that invites Washington residents to post a video of themselves wearing a mask and answering the question: Why do you wear a mask?

Inslee said he’s hoping more people will begin to wear masks, which will allow business to reopen more quickly.

“This is under our control,” Inslee said. “We can control our destiny.”

Arielle Dreher contributed to this report

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