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Gov. Jay Inslee
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Governor Inslee on reopening parts of the state

Governor Inslee is allowing some counties in Washington state to apply to reopen faster. We talk about what reopening looks like and how to keep the state healthy.

This is an edited transcript of Governor Jay Inslee's conversation with Bill Radke on Monday, May 11, 2020.

Mailbox Peak was packed [over the weekend]. And you know, some of those hikers stopped for gas and food and we just heard they definitely didn't follow the rules. Any regrets about letting us out of the house?

We know physical activity is important. We know the vast, actually majority of people, I think, are making efforts to to really protect themselves. I walked a little trail over in Kitsap County -- everybody, there were only about six or seven people, but everybody stepped off the trail where I was, and really gave each other 10 or 12 feet, and so that's what I've been experiencing.

I haven't heard about Mailbox Peak. We're going to have some of that. But you know, we're just hoping people can be leaders and lead with their families and their friends to not allow big congregations to take place. And we're going to continually remind people of that because lives are at stake. And one of the things that we've learned is that our victory on this is assured only through personal responsibility -- it's what people do in their own individual lives. And so we're just hoping people, all people can be leaders. And if we do that, we're going to save a lot of lives.

Are you watching to see infection rates and considering reclosing parks or outdoor recreation or the curbside pickup, the things that you've begun to reopen?

Well, obviously, yes. I mean, if the virus starts to blow up again, we will have to consider different measures and so when people ask you know, what can we do to get to a reopening faster? It's comply with our social distancing suggestions. That's what we can all do. So it is possible that we have to go back to the measures. We hope that that is not the case.

And as far as your first question, are we looking at these numbers, like almost hourly. So we look at least daily at ta host of at least 12 metrics, in real time, to see our percentage of tests that are positive, a percentage of hospital admittance that are because of Covid, our fatalities, our numbers of tests, the positive rate on the return, our hospital accessibility to accommodate surges, our testing capability, how many tests we can run and where those tests are, whether or not we've been able to expand the testing capability. We look at all those metrics on at least a daily basis and they are of huge interest to all of us, certainly to myself, that I look at, so that we can make really good acute judgments of how fast to be able to move to these additional opening of our state.

And I think our state has done well, because we have followed the science, we have followed the data. We have made decisions based on common sense and rational thought, rather than just emotions. And because of that we've done very well relative to other states.

All those metrics that you just mentioned, I don't see how low all those numbers need to be, which I realize would be very complicated because they all affect one another. It's a big moving picture. Do you have specifics anywhere?

It's a puzzle, not one piece. If you make a decision just based on one piece of the puzzle, you may make a huge mistake. So we look at all the metrics together. And when we move from phase one to phase two is when those things as a mosaic, tells you that you can have a good chance of success to keep this virus down.

Interesting article today, I can't remember where I actually read it, it was explaining why it would be a mistake, although maybe comforting, to just pick one number and say there's the metric. And that can lead you to a massive new infection or on the other side, prevent you from moving forward when you want to or when you could actually.

J.T. Wilcox, the House Minority Leader, Republican leader, had been pretty supportive all along. And then he began to join the people saying, well, I don't know when we're coming out of this. And although he did not sign on to that lawsuit from some Republican lawmakers calling your stay home order unconstitutional, he supported it, in that he told me that the circumstances that prompted the stay home order are no longer with us:

Wilcox: "The original crisis was cast in terms of we have to flatten the curve. We did that. And we supported the governor in his original declaration of an emergency. And the fact is, the health care system handled the emergency well. And I think we all understand that going forward. We're not going back to what it was in February. I don't think very many people expect that that's the case. But I think we are very concerned about the fact that we are creating so much havoc for families, institutions, the healthcare system, by the way, that we have to be cognizant of that too. And I would say that if anyone 90 years ago, could have understood that they were heading into the Great Depression, they would do whatever they could to avoid having that 10 year experience, too."

How do you react to that Governor?

Well, first off, it is not shocking that a Republican would criticize me. I'm kind of used to that over time. It is disappointing if the representative is saying that we should remove all of our restrictions. That would be a disastrous mistake. Not even Dr. [Anthony] Fauci [head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases] or [Dr. Deborah] Birx [of the White House Coronavirus Task Force] or [Dr. Robert] Redfield [Director of the CDC] believe that would be the right decision. So I'm not sure what the representative is really saying. But I know that that there's a great desire and it would be easy to pick one single number, but I would note that the Republicans have not proposed a number, nor have they proposed a mechanism to actually phasing that. They just want to sort of be Monday morning quarterbacks.

So this is a decision that we will make based on epidemiological evidence, and I'm very confident that we will make the right decisions because we have, and the proof is in the pudding. We have done well in our state. The reason is because Washingtonians have been very responsible and follow the science.

Now one of the things the representative said was, he knew we would not go back to February. I'm not sure what he meant by that. But the possibility is we would go back to February or early March, if we did release all of our restrictions today. That's just a biological fact. It's well established. There's no scientist who disagrees with that. And we've got to listen to the physicians and epidemiologists about that, rather than Republican politicians. They have not offered evidence to the fact that that would not happen.

In a moment, we'll ask the Washington Policy Center about their claim that the state legislature should have a stronger oversight role in the emergency -- lawmakers should have to approve or disapprove your emergency action beyond 30 days. Should one person, Republican governor, Democratic, whoever, have the power to indefinitely impose emergency restrictions, unlike some other states?

Well, there are 50 governors, they all have emergency powers, and to some extent, almost all of them have exercised them to some degree. And the reason is, when we set up this state, we realized there were unusual, very unusual circumstances, where the only meaningful way to be able to have really emergency decisions were to have the executive, the elected executive, make those decisions, and that's what we're doing. We do have conversations with all the legislators, both parties, on a regular basis so that we have full transparency, and we have been as transparent as possible. I've shared all of the biology that I have available to me, with the legislators and with the broader public. So there's all kinds of communication going back and forth.

And so far all of the legislative leaders have agreed to all of the proclamations that I have made where they have required them. There is a process for some of them to require all of the four corners leadership to sign off, and they have signed off on all of them except two of them. And one of them I couldn't understand because it basically, it was a proclamation that they voted on, in fact J.T. Wilcox voted for this proclamation, but now he won't agree to it. So, you know, make of that what you will. So I think we're having good communication about this. None of the leaders have called for a special session. Neither the Republican senator nor J.T. Wilcox has called for a special session. And, you know, maybe that's because they realize that making these decisions is really tough. And if you do have to come up with a plan, you can't just carp and criticize you actually have to come up with a plan.

We have proposed one, it's well understood, and we're moving forward. Today we're we're having three more of our counties that will be moved to phase two because we have a well thought out criteria and they've met that criteria. So we are making progress. We've opened up construction, elective surgery, golf, fishing and other matters. So I just point out we're making progress. And we got to continue on that route.

A KUOW listener told us that our husband is on a week of unpaid leave from the Boeing Renton plant because he's worried he was exposed by a co-worker whose daughter tested positive and she wants to know why airplane building is an essential job right now:

"This is Lorraine calling from Seattle. I have to set up my question first with some quick facts. The Boeing factory in Renton produces only two planes the grounded 737 max whose production has been halted since January and the military P8 which is produced at the rate of one plane per month and is sold to other countries. 12,000 employees have been ordered to return to a job site producing one airplane per month. 12,000 employees are sitting idle in a factory that isn't providing virus testing or antibody testing. Do you think this is in the best interest of public health or for the personal health of these employees and their families?"

Governor Inslee, you think this is in the best interest of public or personal health for Boeing to be operating now?

Well, we've looked at Boeing's protocols, and they have engaged in some quite specific protocols to try to reduce the rate of infection. But that rate, obviously, that risk is not zero. And we are thinking about those employees and their families, and insist that those protocols be followed and our Department of Labor in this case will be very carefully observing Boeing to make sure that they are following those protocols. But the reason that they were allowed to continue manufacturing in any event is that after looking at this, we decided that eliminating the aerospace industry from the future of the state of Washington was not in the best interest of the state of Washington. And that was a risk that we faced given the Boeing company's and the aerospace supply chain in general situation that we're in right now. We just didn't think that was a risk that we should take either.

So we're going to look at this very carefully. And I should say that we have also in our state, the first state and so far, I believe the only state, to make sure that people who are at the greatest risk -- those are people over the age of 65, those with chronic health conditions -- they are protected so that they can refuse to go to work and still be guaranteed unemployment compensation and the ability to get their job back. So we are protecting the most vulnerable people in the Boeing supply chain, and I'm glad our state has led the country as it does so often.

We're all wondering what's going to change because of this pandemic and what's going to remain the same. I wonder, would you pick one specific policy that you think ought to change? And you will enact that policy based on on what we've learned?

Well, good question. I haven't thought about something really, really specific. But I will say, I think two things will change without the necessity of a legal decision. I believe that we have learned the ability to operate our businesses with a lot less physical commuting. And I think we have a lot of people will be able to avoid that horrendous commute and do a significant part of their work electronically. I think organizations are learning that they can have a not insignificant percentage of your work done without people having to be commuting you know, five days a week. I think that's going to be a positive change, less headaches in the commute, less traffic accidents, less pollution.

Now that businesses have had to prove that they can do that, could you see the legislature and yourself following up and making that stick?

As far as a legal requirement? I don't think so. And I don't think it'll be necessary because I think organizations have learned to do that. The other thing is, count me as too heartfelt at this moment, but I think we've had a renewed appreciation of the people we love in our lives, and we've had a renewed understanding of that. We've seen the power of electronics degrees together. So I'll leave that on a good note.

Governor Inslee, something you want to leave us with?

I just want to leave you with an appreciation of Washingtonians.

We have bent the curve as much or more than any other state. We are making progress on the infection rate. And the reason we are able to do that are largely individual decisions by Washington parents and sons and daughters of employers and employees. People are making individual decisions for the community interest. And that's an act of patriotism.

We know that the most obvious heroes are our nurses and our physicians and our respiratory therapists. But everyone has a chance to be a leader here. And I just want to thank people for doing that. It's the reason we're going to save a lot of lives and it's the reason we have saved a lot of lives. If we continue this in a very difficult situation, which this is, we're going to have a lot more loved ones in our lives. And I think that's worth doing.