Governor Jay Inslee last month signed a pact with California and Oregon that was later joined by Nevada and Colorado which calls for “a shared vision for reopening their economies.” As many of those states are beginning to lift parts of their stay-at-home orders and outline specific benchmarks for reopening, Inslee announced on May 1 an extension of Washington’s order through May 31 and continued closure of businesses deemed “non-essential.”
Although he unveiled a phased-in reopening plan for businesses, the four-phase plan does not have set dates or conditions under which such reopening can occur. Ohio’s business reopening plan includes specific dates for each phase, while a draft plan developed by Oregon Governor Kate Brown includes certain criteria that must first be met, such as lowering infection rates and increased testing capacity before loosening restrictions.
Inslee said he wants to see more testing. Currently the state can conduct 4,000 tests a day, with a goal of 20,000 tests per day.
“There’s a fair chance we will be able to get there in the next month or so, or even earlier than that if the federal government fulfills its commitment to us,” Inslee said during the press conference. “I wish I could give you just one simple number, but the honest answer is it’s going to vary depending on the status of the disease when we get to the place to really make these decisions about when to move these phases.”
However, Inslee also said that counties relatively unaffected by the COVID-19 outbreak would be able to apply for a variance to the stay-at-home order. A May 1 letter signed by 50 state and regional lawmakers mostly from central and southwest Washington calls for a decentralized approach to reopening at the county level.
“They have an in-depth, detailed understanding of the resources and response methods that will best suit their county,” the letter states. “They also have the ability to be more directly receptive to citizens’ needs on a local level and are in a better position to determine which restrictions to impose or modify, which to remove, and the proper timeframe in which to do so.”
Some are critical of what they see as insufficient explanations, clarification of metrics or Inslee’s reasoning for decisions such as classifying construction as “nonessential” when almost every other state has allowed it to continue. Certain construction activity was eventually permitted here in late April.
Before the May 1 press conference former Bellevue City Councilmember Kevin Wallace told Lens: “it’s been really frustrating to have a stunning lack of transparency from the governor and the state government on how businesses are supposed to reopen and when.”
The same day as Inslee’s press conference, protesters gathered in Olympia in opposition to the extended stay-at-home order, while the day before, initiative sponsor and gubernatorial candidate Tim Eyman filed a lawsuit against Inslee’s order.
When asked at the press conference about the possibility of civil disobedience to his order, Inslee remarked that “the great members of the press keep wishing for failure here, but that’s not how we operate in Washington. We look for success and that’s what we’re experiencing.”
However, House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox (R-2) said in a statement following Inslee’s press conference that “there are still more questions than answers. Individuals, families and businesses are under a tremendous amount of stress, and I don’t know if the governor understands the depth of the economic and emotional toll this is taking on Washingtonians. They need hope and certainty, but they didn’t get that today.”
Other states in the Western pact are now beginning to shift toward reopening. California Governor Gavin Newsom said on May 1 the state is “days, not weeks” away from lifting some restrictions, while Colorado Governor Jared Polis last week eased the state’s stay-at-home order and allowed some nonessential services to reopen, including barber shops.
As of May 4, Colorado has had 16,635 confirmed cases compared to Washington’s 15,185 cases. Colorado and Washington have also had almost the same number of COVID-19 deaths, 842 to 835, respectively. Polis said his decision to loosen restrictions came down to the fact that state residents couldn’t afford it any longer.
Although many of Washington’s large employers, venture capital firms and trade associations have put together “back to work” plans or recommended safety and health guidelines, some small business advocates say many of their members are “barely hanging on.”
Wallace said certain businesses may not be able to reopen if something doesn’t change. “It’s already a nightmare for hotels and retail obviously. Every day that goes by…that hole gets dug deeper, and it’s harder to get out at all. By the end of May, if this is really where we’re headed, it’s just hard to know how a lot of these business are going to survive.”
No update from Inslee on the state’s COVID-19 response is scheduled at this time.