Inslee testifies in Congress on the pandemic

OLYMPIA — Washington’s actions during the COVID-19 pandemic have saved lives and kept businesses and schools open, but more is needed to pull the country out of the pandemic, Congressman told Congress on Thursday. Governor Jay Inslee.

Inslee joined other state and city leaders in testifying before the coronavirus crisis select subcommittee about their response to the omicron variant. Democratic Governor Jared Polis of Colorado and Democrat Pedro Pierluisi of Puerto Rico; DC Mayor Muriel Bowser and Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts of Nebraska all discussed actions still needed to slow the spread of the virus.

The hearing and governors’ comments drew criticism from Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane and other Republican members of the subcommittee, who claimed some governments had been too high-handed in mandates and vaccine strategy .

But Inslee said Washington used three principles to fight the COVID-19 virus: science and public health experts; save lives; and remove the virus to reopen the economy safely.

“Did these strategies work? They worked hard,” he told committee members.

Mandate, vaccines

Washington has dealt with the nation’s first outbreak of COVID-19, having seen the first case of the virus two years ago on Friday.

Inslee pointed to the state’s use of masking and vaccines, which he called the most effective measures.

Washington implemented a statewide mask mandate in June 2020. Besides several weeks last summer when the mandate was lifted, it has been in place ever since. He said the mask mandate was the most effective action the state has taken. Inslee announced earlier this month that the state would donate 10 million free N95 and KN95 masks to local communities through schools, governments and health departments.

All of the witnesses said the vaccine was the most effective way to fight the virus.

Inslee pointed to the state’s immunization rate. More than 74% of people 12 and older are considered fully vaccinated, according to the Department of Health. Inslee also mentioned the state’s vaccination requirement for state employees, healthcare workers and educators.

McMorris Rodgers submitted a statement to the committee criticizing Inslee’s work during the pandemic, particularly its decision to implement a mask mandate for K-12 schools.

“The response to COVID-19 in Washington State will have devastating consequences for the future of our children and the state,” reads his statement.

She also said school closures had kept students out of the classroom “for too long”, leading to loss of learning and lower test scores. Inslee said keeping schools open remains a top priority in the coming months of the pandemic.

She said the government’s response to the pandemic has led to a nationwide labor shortage, including in the health care sector.

All of the governors testifying Thursday urged the federal government to increase funding for health care and nurses because there is a nationwide shortage.

Inslee called on the federal government to help pay for more nurses, healthcare workers and the behavioral health response needed after the pandemic.

Washington’s most pressing challenges are test availability and overburdened hospitals, Inslee said.

Washington recently increased its home testing offerings with an online portal available to residents starting this weekend, according to the Department of Health. Inslee announced last week that the state was suspending all non-emergency procedures at hospitals and sending 100 National Guard personnel to state hospitals. Hospitalizations have skyrocketed across Washington with the omicron variant, and continued staff shortages have left many hospitals in crisis.