Gov. Jay Inslee said Saturday that COVID-19 social distancing orders similar to his “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” initiative will likely extend beyond the beginning of April.
The announcement came shortly after Spokane County reported its second death related to the disease and confirmation of 22 new positive tests.
The additional cases brought Spokane County to a total of 108. Nine people were hospitalized with the disease as of Saturday afternoon.
At least 4,300 people were diagnosed with the disease statewide and nearly 190 had died as of Saturday, according to the state health department. The number of cases increased by about 575, and deaths rose by about 15 from Friday’s count.
Inslee said at a Saturday news conference that an extension of his social distancing order in some form is “highly likely,” in light of data that officials are examining, including a University of Washington analysis that projects more than 1,400 Washington deaths by July 1, even with strict social distancing measures.
“The more people do voluntarily, the less we will have to do from orders,” said Inslee, who added he saw too many cars on Interstate 5 Saturday and wants people to lessen unnecessary travel.
Inslee also told reporters a quarantine of the entire state has not been discussed with the White House or his administration.
The governor was gathered with other government officials – including U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan – at the CenturyLink Field Event Center to discuss deploying a non-COVID-19 field hospital there this week. It will be staffed by 300 soldiers from the 627th Army Hospital at Fort Carson, Colorado, and is estimated to create at least 150 beds, freeing up space for acute COVID-19 care at other hospitals.
Inslee said the field hospital is just the beginning of statewide hospital capacity expansion efforts.
“This epidemic is going to grow to the furthest corners of Washington, and we have to be – and are – committed to building that hospital and associated capacity,” Inslee said at a news conference. “Because we know that it will be needed.”
King County Executive Dow Constantine said local hospitals, which were already operating at high capacity before the outbreak, have seen higher admission rates, though the system has not yet been overwhelmed.
Discussions with the federal government to bring more hospital capacity and medical personnel remain ongoing, Inslee said.
“It is absolutely needed, and the place with the first outbreak in the United States ought to be in the top priorities of the federal government,” Inslee said. “And we look forward to further deployment of hospital and medical personnel working with our federal partners.”
Inslee said the Army Corps of Engineers has also committed to build isolation wards in Washington for people who don’t need acute care. In particular, those facilities could shelter people experiencing homelessness, he said.
East of the Cascades, local health districts in 17 counties reported more than 380 cases and 11 deaths, according to the state health department. One hundred of those cases were in Yakima County and five of the deaths were reported in Benton County.
In Spokane, a woman in her 50s died from the disease in a hospital Saturday, marking the second local death within a day, according to the Spokane Regional Health District.
The first reported death was a hospitalized man in his 80s.
Spokane public health officials said Friday the health district will not release where COVID-19 deaths occur or whether the people who die have underlying health conditions.
King County’s public health department released that information about individual deaths until Tuesday, when it reported 94 deaths. The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department did so for its first two local deaths.
The Spokane Regional Health District also announced Saturday the drive-thru COVID-19 screening site at the Spokane County Fair & Expo Center will close two hours earlier each day. It will now be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the weekend.
And the Greater Spokane Emergency Coordination Center made a call for additional volunteers to sign up via an online form to support the county’s local COVID-19 response. The form lists opportunities to work with food, patient screening, infants and children, seniors, people experiencing homelessness, and people with special needs.
Inslee made some revisions to his “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order Saturday, saying funeral homes and cemeteries can provide services for the immediate family of the deceased as long as they maintain proper social distancing.
He also clarified that in-person meetings for real estate transactions, which were deemed essential functions in his order, should only take place in person for a customer to view a property or sign documents. Property viewings are limited to two people total and open houses are not allowed.
And Inslee offered hope that things eventually will return to normal.
“The day is going to come again when we root for the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field,” Inslee said at the news conference. “The day is going to come when we root for the Sounders on this field.”
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