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Washington State Governor Jay Inslee during a televised press conference (February 4, 2021). Source: TVW

Inslee and staff respond to questions raised by Whatcom Health Board letter

FERNDALE, Wash. — Governor Inslee held a press conference today, February 4th, to discuss current COVID-19 strategies. As part of a question-and-answer period with reporters, Inslee responded to questions about the critiques put forth in a letter from the Whatcom County Health Board.

The letter addressed to Inslee, was said to “express our frustration and deep concern about the Roadmap to Recovery plan.” It cited not “being given any opportunity to weigh in, share our experience as local elected officials, or share concerns or unintended consequences” before the plan was announced. It also noted some counties were recently permitted to allow businesses to reopen while others, including Whatcom County, were not. The letter went on to say, “Seeing that the new strategy clearly benefits counties inequitably, it is frustrating and difficult to justify to our struggling businesses and residents. We now witness counties with far higher case rates being granted the ability to re-open while our North region’s averages are much lower and our businesses continue to suffer in lockdown.”

Inslee was asked by a reporter from the Northwest News Network to explain the rationale for the change to the regional rather than county approach that had been in place for several months.

There are 10,000 legitimate criticisms of what we’ve done here, where we’ve drawn the lines, how fast we’ve set the metrics, how often we … the reason we did it this way is 2-fold, some of which not everybody thinks about. But we have to think about everything, not just our little narrow looking through the keyhole here.

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There’s two reasons for this. Number one – we have now added a metric of the dynamic activity in hospital hospitalizations and ICU capacity and because our medical systems are not limited to counties, they’re interwoven amongst counties where they share. 1 county may frequently send its hospital patients to a different county with a higher level of care. If you’re going to have that type of metric it makes sense to have a regional approach that is more consistent with the healthcare catch basins of your health care system. Number 2 is that with the smaller units that you choose to make these decisions, the more complaints you get from people saying “right across the street that restaurant is open, how come I can’t?” So, if you go to a county-based system you might close the restaurants in Benton County and open them in Franklin County a half-mile away and that doesn’t resonate well with people either. And if you did it on a county-wide basis I can assure you that we would be criticized for that having such insane restrictions for two restaurants on two different sides of the street. So I think there is a rational reason why reason why we have done this.

Governor Jay Inslee during a press conference (February 4, 2021).

The Governor was aided by External Affairs Director Nick Streuli in responding to similar criticism echoed in a question from a KOMO reporter who asked specifically about the Whatcom County Health Board letter, noting, “these are professionals and people who know about these statistics and they are still asking you to back off on this regional approach.”

The counties that you mentioned with these criticisms … those regions had almost a 70% increase in their trend for case counts during the evaluation. 4 of the regions in the last evaluation had double-digit increases in their hospital admission rates and so those are the trends that we’re really watching to see if those medical systems are decompressing, if their case counts are trending down, in order for us to make a determination about whether or not they’re ready to move ahead.

Washington State Office of the Governor External Affairs Director Nick Streuli during a press conference (February 4, 2021).

The entire press conference can be viewed via video below (the Q&A period begins at about the 28-minute mark).

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