SPOKANE, Wash. — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee visited Spokane on Thursday amid a marked increase in coronavirus cases throughout the area.
The governor met with local leaders in government, health care and business to discuss the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. During a media briefing, he said he was stunned to learn about a dramatic increase in hospitalizations over the past few days.
The latest updates about his visit to Spokane can be found below.
2:56 p.m.: Inslee expresses concerns about COVID-19 spikes
During a media briefing on Thursday, Gov. Jay Inslee and other leaders expressed concerns about rising coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in Spokane County.
"Spokane is right on the verge of a very dire situation because of this pandemic. It's right on the verge of a runaway pandemic," Inslee said on Thursday.
Dr. Dan Getz, who serves as the medical officer for Providence Sacred Heart in Spokane, also joined Inslee on Thursday to speak about trends in the county. Hospitalizations have tripled at Sacred Heart in the past week alone and MultiCare hospitals are also reporting increases, Getz said.
“And when we look at our infection rates here locally, they are higher than they’ve ever been," he said.
Inslee said later that he was stunned when he heard that new hospitalizations had doubled in Spokane County over the past few days and are predicted to double in the next two weeks.
Beginning Friday, face coverings will be mandatory in public spaces throughout Washington state where it’s impossible to maintain six feet of distance from others. Inslee urged people to comply with the order.
“Masks work. Masks save lives. Masks show that you care about people in your community," he said.
In Yakima County, business owners must bar customers from entering if they are not wearing a mask. Inslee says the state is not considering such drastic measures for Spokane County right now, but it is possible.
“That is something that we could consider if our other approach isn’t working," he said.
Local leaders have been pushing for Spokane to move forward in the state's reopening plan, a decision that Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz and leaders with Providence Health Care do not yet support.
Though Inslee said the state does not have "a magic number" for what it would take to move Spokane County backward to Phase 1, he expressed concerns about the county's current incidence rate. Under state guidelines, a county in Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan should have 25 or fewer new coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents in two weeks.
"Spokane is today at 49.9. It’s twice that level already – rapidly going up," Inslee said.
Though the data may look discouraging, Inslee says he believes Washingtonians care about each other and Spokane can beat the virus.
“The best way to not be tired about it is to beat it. And we have the capability to beat it just like the Gonzaga Bulldogs beat almost every team they play. We need to beat this virus," Inslee said.
“And the way to beat it is to put a little piece of cloth over our mouth and nose, and we’re going to be victorious I believe," he added.
1:29 p.m.: Gov. Inslee says Spokane is 'on the verge' of explosive situation
Gov. Inslee said during his meeting that Spokane isn't in an explosive situation like that of Yakima County right now, but "it's on the verge."
He added that not many people in Spokane are wearing masks, but people shouldn't be intimidated by that as it will change.
KREM's Taylor Viydo reports that protesters rallying against the statewide mask mandate that goes into effect on Friday could be heard yelling outside of the WSU Spokane building during Inslee's first meeting.
12:30 p.m.: Gov. Inslee meets with Spokane Alliance, frontline workers
Gov. Inslee began his meeting with the Spokane Alliance at about 12:30 p.m. The meeting at Washington State University's Spokane campus includes a panel with frontline and essential workers.
Community members and representatives from various industries such as health care and childcare shared their concerns about coronavirus and how they’ve been impacted by it.
Representatives from WSU's nursing school also spoke about how the school is working against coronavirus.
Others spoke about how people in Spokane are dealing with job losses and lost wages because of COVID-19, and their struggles to pay rent or afford childcare.
An employee of Fred Meyer said it can be impossible to socially distance in the store at times, and added that not all customers wear face masks.
"The biggest thing that I'm pushing for and I'm an advocate for is they push the fact that everybody, everybody needs to wear a mask when they're coming into the store," he said.
11:40 a.m.: Gov. Inslee lands in Spokane
Gov. Inslee's plane landed at Felts Field at 11:40 a.m.