As COVID-19 cases are spiking in the South King County area, Gov. Jay Inslee met with local elected officials, business partners and public health officials July 17 in Federal Way to discuss the state’s pandemic response.
Gov. Inslee heard from voices within South King County regarding public health concerns, education plans, and the pandemic’s effects on businesses during several meetings at the city’s Performing Arts and Events Center.
“All of those groups shared one thing and that is that we should be committed to defeating the COVID-19 pandemic,” Inslee said. “I came away with a belief that we are unified in an effort to use our heads, to follow science, to be guided by science and ultimately, be saved by science.”
A substantial part to the worsening pandemic is due to people’s increase in socializing and engaging in activities that seem innocent, Inslee said. South King County’s socioeconomic status also plays into the increase of virus numbers.
“South King County is the center of the pandemic in King County. The numbers are much more pronounced in this region and that’s not surprising given the economic conditions,” Inslee said.
The virus has been unfair in who it has targeted, so the state’s job is to administer assistance to those particular communities, Inslee said.
“These are the people who most need our care for their health because they frequently live in multigenerational housing, they live closer, they’re doing business where they have to have a lot of connection … they most need our protection of what we’re doing against this pandemic.”
Many South King County health officials, such as nurses, administrators and others on the frontlines, shared that the pandemic is peaking in local communities.
“Their message was consistent and that is that the COVID pandemic is increasing in South King County at significant amounts,” Inslee said, noting that health officials in South King County reported seeing more people in their clinics, hospitals and people getting sick more frequently.
Health professionals indicated to the governor that COVID-19 cases may be more prevalent in younger generations, “but it is not limited to people in younger generations,” Inslee said. “It is increasing in South King County throughout the age groups.”
Health community members present at the July 17 meeting urged Inslee to take whatever measures possible to help reduce the number of people being infected by the virus, he said.
“These are the experts because they are the people who are seeing the people who are intubated and are seeing them gasping for breath and having to talk to the family members who have lost loved ones,” Inslee said. “I’m glad I had a chance to talk with them because it brought me face-to-face with what this pandemic, in some sense, really looks like.”
Mask usage is a simple and effective weapon to defeat the pandemic and help local businesses survive, Inslee said.
“The best safety net for businesses right now are masks,” Inslee said.
Business leaders also asked the governor to provide more certainty about rules for specific industries sooner in order to alleviate confusion surrounding the most effective health guidelines.
Inslee also touched on the uncertainties of students returning to school in the fall. Education leaders were not present in the Friday meeting. Inslee said the state has provided guidance to local school districts about safe reopenings and ultimately has allowed districts to make their own decisions about returning to school.
The responses and plans have varied across the state. Inslee said there is a need to maximize the time students are in the classroom, not in remote learning.
“Our schools are in our hands right now depending on what we do as individuals in our personal lives,” Inslee said.
Inslee also hinted at possible extensions of schooling in order to make up time and learning students have already, or may in the future, missed out on due to the pandemic.
“It is clear to me that students will not have as much in-classroom instruction frankly as they need,” Inslee said. “I believe we are going to start to have to have a conversation about how we replace those in-school [missing] days, perhaps with additional times in the summer, perhaps additional time at the end of your twelve years.”
Inslee said he is not suggesting an extension of the school year in 2021 yet, although a plan is needed to make up the lost school days from the springtime when schools initially closed.
Mayors from Federal Way, Kent, Auburn and Pacific also attended meetings with the governor July 17 and shared their concerns regarding the potential impact of another lockdown order.
“If we need to roll back, there needs to be clear communication of why that’s necessary,” said Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell of a potential second stay-at-home order. “If it’s a necessary rollback because of a spike in infections, then there needs to be some assistance to our smaller businesses in the area.”
Along with the health of the local residents, Ferrell said the South King County cities want to prevent the widespread failure of the businesses that may be a result of the mandated shutdowns.
Ferrell said he asked the governor to call a special session of the Legislature for another state-funded level of assistance to local businesses and organizations if there is another shutdown.