Washington State Governor Jay Inslee released his plan for a return to normal from the coronavirus crisis this week, explaining how and when restrictions will be lifted or relaxed.
“It will look more like the turning of a dial than a flip of a switch,” Inslee summarized.
Under the plan, a few restrictions can be lifted soon, provided the pandemic models from the University of Washinton remain positive, while others will have to wait for more data and time. Among the activities to resume shortly, the governor highlighted some construction projects, elective surgeries, and outdoor recreation.
That said, according to Inslee, “It is unlikely many restrictions under the ‘Stay Home, Stay Healthy’ order will be modified before May 4,” the previous end date for the governor’s COVID-19-related restrictions.
As far as reopening the economy goes, Inslee says, “We are going to provide guidance for industries to know when and how they can reopen,” but didn’t give any specifics. According to the report, some industries will open faster than others, and they will need to be able to maintain social distancing, sanitation, and other health requirements.
To facilitate recovery, Gov. Inslee has a four-step plan to “box in the virus.” The first step is widespread testing, which the governor says will require 20 to 30 thousand tests per day, quite the jump from the comparatively meager 4,000 a day we are doing right now. According to Inslee’s address, to get there, we will need more swabs, vials, regents, and personnel, all of which are currently in short supply. “We’re doing all we can in this state to acquire that, [but] we need the federal government to help us more,” says Inslee. The governor penned a letter to Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday, asking for assistance.
The next step is rapid isolation, and Inslee’s plan says that to do that, we will need to make sure that we can get tests back quickly and ensure that there are safe places available for people to be quarantined and treated for COVID-19. The third step is contact tracing, which involves figuring out who an infected individual has come into contact with recently so that they can be quarantined. “We expect roughly 1,500 workers focused solely on contact tracing by the second week of May,” Inslee explained. This is especially necessary because COVID-19 has a long incubation during which an infected person can spread the virus even though they appear perfectly healthy. In the fourth step, those identified in contact tracing efforts are then tested and quarantined if necessary, so that they don’t spread the virus any further.
This system is very similar to that which South Korea has implemented against the coronavirus, where it was highly effective even without extensive social distancing. With any luck, it will be here too.
What is certain is that total recovery will take time. Until we have the tools we need to fight the virus effectively, preventing another outbreak, the governor says, will have to remain our top priority. That means adequate testing, a system of contact identification, PPE for everyone who needs it, adequate capacity in our Healthcare System, and a vaccine. Until then, physical distancing will continue, the majority of large gatherings will remain prohibited, and that companies and schools will be directed to work and learn remotely as much as possible.