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Opinion >  Column

Sue Lani Madsen: The new normal

It is Day 592 of Washington’s state of emergency, declared by Gov. Jay Inslee on February 29, 2020.

An emergency is dictionary defined as “a serious, unexpected, and often dangerous situation requiring immediate action.” It’s no longer an emergency as defined by common sense. A serious situation, but nothing unexpected. This is the new normal. Continuing to operate under a state of emergency is unhealthy for both individuals and society.

The human body is not designed to operate in a state of constant fear. Chronic stress, according to the Mayo Clinic website and any other credible source of health information, leads to anxiety, depression, digestive problems, headaches, muscle tension and pain, heart disease, heart attack, high blood pressure and stroke, sleep problems, memory and concentration impairment, and weight gain.

Living without daily fear is a matter of self-preservation. Healthy humans learn to distinguish unexpected, dangerous situations requiring immediate action from chronic, ordinary challenges. Representative governments need to make the same distinction lest they become authoritarian societies operating under one-man rule.

And state government has essentially been operating under one-man rule since February 29, 2020. If the government of the state of Washington is unable to deal with a now ordinary and endemic virus without suspending rules and regular order, then we need to fix the regular order.

Continuing under a state of emergency is like listening to an overly sensitive smoke alarm while you’re cooking dinner. You’ll either ignore it or disconnect it, but it no longer has any affect on your actions.

Jackie Murray was dealing with a hypersensitive alarm on Wednesday, only she wasn’t in a kitchen. Murray is a proud member of the Teamsters union, and she answered her phone from the cab of a quarry truck. The incessant beep-beep-beep in my ear sounded like a backup alarm. “Nope, it’s an error code and it won’t stop until the truck is rebooted,” said Murray. The crew is working on the expansion of the Davenport Municipal Airport runway, putting in five 10 hour days a week as the crew attempts to finish before winter. The other two available trucks are out of commission. It’s too cold and would take too long to go through the reboot, so Murray is stuck.

“I warned my co-workers I will be insane by the end of the day, and be careful I don’t take you with me,” joked Murray.

It’s a fair warning. Emergency alarms are designed to draw our attention and urge us to immediate action. When no immediate action is either available or necessary, the incessant beeping may make even the most congenial Teamster cranky.

Instead of a 10-hour work shift, Gov. Inslee’s state of emergency is approaching 20 months. And unlike Murray, we have no idea when we get to clock out. The movable goalposts have completely disappeared off the field.

First there was Stay Home, Stay Healthy and two weeks to stop the spread. Then a series of reopening plans with phases that never seemed to have an endpoint. Now there is no plan at all on the Department of Health website, and no answer to the question of what metrics Gov. Inslee will be consulting to make his decision.

The DOH media briefing on October 13 had no answer to the question of when the never-ending emergency ends, other than that the governor is “always looking at the data.” It would be nice if he’d let everyone else in on what data that might be. Or at least bring a bipartisan group of legislators into his closed-door huddles to make it a team effort.

It’s hard to get excited about yet another beep-beep-beeping briefing telling everyone to wash their hands. Most of us learned that in kindergarten. Presentations were predictable and the lack of interest was evident from the low participation by the media. Briefings used to draw more than a dozen reporters. This one had only six queued up. The sense of alarm has been disconnected.

Our governor thinks he is the quarterback who just won the Super Bowl and the “one person in the state with the capability to save those lives.” He’s wrong. It’s time to return to normal governance, and let the rest of the team back in the game so we really are all in this together.

Contact Sue Lani Madsen at

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