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, Gov. Jay Inslee told Congress Thursday.
Inslee joined other state and city leaders in testifying before the coronavirus crisis select subcommittee about their response to the omicron variant. Democratic governors. Jared Polis of Colorado and Governor 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 the governors’ comments drew criticism from Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and other Republican members of the subcommittee, who claimed some governments had been too high-handed in their mandates and vaccine strategy.
Inslee said Washington has 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.
Washington has faced the country’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 witnesses indicated that the vaccine was the most effective way to fight the virus.
Inslee pointed to the state’s immunization rate. More than 74% of those 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 added that the government’s response to the pandemic has resulted in 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.
Pierluisi said hospitals in Puerto Rico are able to “achieve the near impossible,” but they need more federal funding for health care programs.
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.
In his statement, McMorris Rodgers criticized Inslee’s decision to halt all non-emergency procedures but keep a vaccination mandate in place for all health care workers in the state.
“Imposing heavy vaccination mandates on our healthcare workers – who have gone beyond the call of duty during this pandemic – has proven reckless, cruel and ineffective in stopping the spread of the virus,” it read. in his statement.
Governors and committee members also discussed differences in virus case rates between vaccinated and unvaccinated people. Democrats cited misinformation within the Republican Party regarding different vaccination rates. Republicans said vaccine advice and information has constantly changed, making many people suspicious.
Inslee said there is a “profound difference” in vaccination rates between Democrats and Republicans.
Data from the Kaiser Family Foundation’s COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor showed that among those who are unvaccinated, about 60% identified as Republicans compared to about 17% who identified as Democrats. The November 16 study compared vaccination rates from April to October. Although the number of unvaccinated people has decreased during this time, the percentage of unvaccinated people who identify as Republicans has increased.
The KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor is a research project that tracks the public’s attitude and experience with the vaccine, according to their website.
“There’s just one sad reality that we have to acknowledge: a profoundly different approach to this pandemic depending on whether you’re red or blue,” Inslee said.
Committee member Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, pushed back against the idea of a party spreading misinformation.
“Stop dividing Americans on the vaccine and start providing Americans with a real plan to deal with it,” Scalise said.
The work to fight the virus is not yet done, the leaders who testified said, and states need help from the federal government.
“States alone cannot lead these efforts indefinitely,” Polis said.