June 19, 2020

Governor tells employers serious challenges remain in Washington’s fight against coronavirus

By: Andrew Lenderman   Comments: 0
Washington employers connected with Gov. Jay Inslee Friday.

Washington is making progress toward a healthy reopening, but serious challenges remain in the fight against the coronavirus, Gov. Jay Inslee told employers Friday. Several hundred employers and community leaders heard from the governor and other state leaders in the final during the webinar.

Inslee urged employers to be leaders in their community and support public health measures such as wearing masks, testing, and isolation for those who are positive with COVID-19.

"We are so far from out of the woods on this," Inslee said. "We have an increasing infection rate, probably statewide, and certainly in Eastern Washington, where every person who’s infected in Yakima County, in Benton County, in Franklin County, in Adams County and probably several other counties…for every person who gets an infection, they are infecting probably one and a half to two people themselves."

This leads to exponential growth of cases very rapidly, he added. For example, Yakima's per-capita infection rate will pass New York's in the next several days.

"We have enormously dangerous situations in the state of Washington," Inslee said.

The situation now is more difficult than when businesses shut down, he said.

"We have to find new ways to fight this virus while we are reopening because as we reopen, the social distancing is reduced," Inslee said.

Employers questioned state officials about Washington's reopening during a Friday webinar. Guests included Lisa Brown, director of the state Department of Commerce; Joel Sacks, director of the state Department of Labor & Industries; and Employment Security Commissioner Suzi LeVine.
Wearing masks is the best strategy to defeat the virus, he said. He also urged more testing in businesses and more effective isolation when people are positive.

"These are the only things that are going to work," Inslee said.

Inslee took questions from the audience, including one from AWB board member Brian Forth, owner of SiteCrafting in Tacoma. Forth asked how small businesses can prepare for a second wave of the virus.

The governor urged employers to be leaders, and encourage their neighbors, customers and communities to wear masks in public and indoors where social distancing is not possible.

"Every time we do that we make it less likely that we would have to go through another shutdown period," Inslee said.

Nicole Sohn from the Washington Childcare Centers Association asked Inslee to commit federal funding from the CARES Act to help child care facilities reopen or stay open, in addition to more state support. AWB recently sent the governor a letter on this issue.

"It is critical that we do both to ensure that families are able to get to work and have affordable and accessible child care," Sohn said.

Inslee agreed that childcare is a critical priority, but was unable to immediately provide an answer. He did take a moment to address the state's budget shortfall from the impact of the coronavirus on the economy. The state is facing a shortfall of nearly $9 billion, he said. He noted that he's vetoed about $450 million in spending, and saved $55 million through state employee furloughs and canceling pay raises.

And manufacturers are doing their part. Inslee acknowledged the work of the hundreds of Washington manufacturers that have pivoted their operations to make personal protective equipment to help the state move forward.

"Our demand and need for PPE is going to increase dramatically as we reopen," Inslee said. "…We simply cannot depend on China for the production that we need," Inslee said.

For more information about accessing personal protective equipment and to download a free business toolkit, please visit www.reboundandrecovery.org.

In addition to the governor, the webinar featured updates from Lisa Brown, director of the state Department of Commerce; Joel Sacks, director of the state Department of Labor & Industries; and Employment Security Commissioner Suzi LeVine.

Watch the webinar below.