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Inslee: Extension of stay-home order in play, despite ‘glimmer of hope’ in COVID-19 data

A lone man walks a dog, Tuesday near apartments in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday ordered nonessential businesses to close and the state's more than 7 million residents to stay home in efforts to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. He said Thursday that order could be extended. (Ted S. Warren / AP)

OLYMPIA – Washington has a “glimmer of hope” with some good news on efforts to fight the COVID-19 outbreak, but that doesn’t mean the current stay-home order won’t be extended past the original two weeks, Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday.

Calculations by Johns Hopkins released by the governor’s office suggest a slight reduction in the rate of increase for positive COVID-19 tests in Washington, especially when compared with where some states are at this point in their outbreaks.

“It’s a glimmer of hope,” Inslee said, but offered some caveats. Because of the time lag between exposure and the signs of COVID-19, and the delay for results of those tested for the disease after the symptoms appear, the data being measured on the chart isn’t current.

“Whatever we are seeing today occurred 10 to 14 days ago,” Inslee said.

But the data suggests some of the state’s mitigation strategies have been able to slow the rate of increase, particularly in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties, the three hardest hit by the outbreak.

The rates are not dropping outside those three Puget Sound counties and in many areas, the state is not yet “bending the curve,” he said.

“We are not within 10,000 miles of champagne corks popping,” Inslee said.

Numbers released by the state Department of Health showed a higher rate of increase in positive tests between Wednesday and Thursday. A spokesman for Inslee said he would have to wait to see what health professionals have to say about the day’s numbers before speculating on their meaning.

“What they’re most concerned about is data over time,” Mike Faulk said. “Only time will tell what each day’s numbers mean in the big picture.”

At the morning news conference, Inslee said his stay-home order for people with nonessential jobs could be extended beyond its initial two-week period. That rate of increase is one of the factors state officials will study on a daily basis, along with the percentage of positive tests reported, the rate of hospital admissions for COVID-like illnesses and data that shows whether state residents seem to be staying home to avoid spreading or contracting the disease.

“We can’t allow (the virus) to spring back up. We’ve got to pound it down,” he said.

On Thursday morning, Inslee said he joined a conference call with President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and other governors, asking for help in several areas. Washington has “very significant, unmet needs” for testing, he said. One problem causing delays is a federal rule that tests supplied by the federal government cannot be analyzed at the University of Washington. He asked Trump to remove that barrier.

The state is studying hospital capacity as it prepares for a surge of serious COVID-19 cases. Legislation passed by Congress has some help for rural hospitals and the Defense Department has sent a 146-bed mobile military hospital from Colorado. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is sending more mobile hospitals although their arrival date is uncertain.

The location for those hospitals will be determined based on need, much the way troops are sent to where attackers are, he said.

“They’re going to go wherever they can do the most good,” Inslee said. “The first deployments will probably be in the Puget Sound counties … then expand as the wave spreads out.”

He has talked frequently with legislative leaders of both parties, and is getting bipartisan support, Inslee said.

“When we need to call a special session, we’ll have no fear of calling a special session,” he said.