“We’ve Got to Double Our Efforts”: WA Gov. Inslee Warns Against Reopening Too Early

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In this file photo, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee speaks to the press on March 28, 2020 in Seattle, Washington.

In this file photo, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee speaks to the press on March 28, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. (Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

April 17, 2020

The governor of Washington state — where COVID-19 was first identified in the U.S. — is now warning of another deadly threat.

“The most dangerous element in my state today is the virus of complacency,” Gov. Jay Inslee told FRONTLINE in an interview on April 10. “We have to be just as diligent for the next several weeks as we were in the last several.”

Inslee’s comments, part of the upcoming FRONTLINE special Coronavirus Pandemic, come amid an ongoing power struggle between governors around the country and President Donald Trump over when states should start easing regulations shutting down businesses and public gatherings.

Trump, who has been eager to restart an economy devastated by the closures recently declared that he had “total” authority over the states. He later walked back those remarks amid an outcry. On April 16, according to an audio recording provided to The New York Times, Trump told governors: “You’re going to call your own shots,” adding that some states were in “very good shape to open quickly” and “could open before the date of May 1.”

Meanwhile, Inslee and the governors of Oregon and California have announced a pact to coordinate on when to lift restrictions based on the advice of business and health professionals. Governors in two blocs of the northeast have made similar agreements.

Today, all leaders have the biggest challenge to make sure people understand that as the sun comes up and the daffodils come out, we’ve got to double our efforts,” Inslee told FRONTLINE. “Because you have — you can have as many fatalities as the curve comes down as when the curve was going up. And if you relax too soon, the curve just can rebound and start right back up again.”

Inslee, a former Democratic presidential candidate, has publicly feuded with Trump since a tweet in which Inslee told his followers that the fight against the novel coronavirus would be more successful if “the Trump administration stuck to the science and told the truth.” In response, Trump referred to Inslee as a “snake.”

In his interview, Inslee steered clear of the spat, but said the initial federal response to the crisis had been “extremely disappointing and disheartening,” he said, “downplaying what was an emerging problem, that could only be explained by someone who had their eye on the Dow Jones, rather than an eye on the epidemiological curve.”

The governor also said more federal assistance was needed to produce the necessary kits and equipment needed to conduct widespread testing for COVID-19.

“We need the president to help ignite a national mobilization of the manufacturing base of the United States,” he said. “We got to develop our own in the months to come, so that we can reopen our economy and we can test people as we need to,” he said. “We need that national response.

“Can you imagine if on December 8, 1941, Franklin Delano Roosevelt had given a speech saying, ‘Good luck, Connecticut, building those battleships. We’ll be right behind you?’ No,” said Inslee. “[We] really need more leadership out of the White House,” he said. State leaders, he said, are doing things together “as much as we can,” he added. “But we could use some presidential help.”

Today, Inslee said his state – like many others —  has struggled to find personal protective equipment, even bidding against other states to secure what’s needed. “I’m sure that the suppliers are having a field day,” he said. “It would be much more efficient economically and otherwise if the federal government was playing a more vigorous role.”

On Mar. 18, Trump signed the Defense Production Act, legislation that allows the federal government to control and influence American businesses and manufacturers during emergencies. The White House has since approved a $133 million project aimed to increase the domestic capacity of virus-filtering N95 face masks to more than 39 million in the next three months.

Inslee said he hoped the president will use the production act more widely, saying that federal money could help build industrial capacity for producing hard-to-find testing kits and other protective and scientific equipment.

Meanwhile, in Washington state, Inslee’s emergency order has banned all gatherings and closed non-essential businesses through May 4. But he told FRONTLINE that “it’s possible” that date may be pushed later.

“We have to be very convincing,” he added, “because the truth is that we will save many, many, more people.”


Karen Pinchin

Karen Pinchin, Tow Journalism Fellow, FRONTLINE/Columbia Journalism Fellowship, FRONTLINE

Twitter:

@karenpinchin

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