OLYMPIA, Wash. -- At least 247 people have died from COVID-19 in Washington state, according to data just released by the Department of Health. There are nearly 6,000 confirmed cases.
Gov. Jay Inslee said Wednesday he is asking Washington manufacturers to start producing personal protective equipment, saying the federal government has not been able to supply the state fast enough to meet the growing need amid the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.
Inslee said that while more than 1 million pieces of personal protective equipment — from the federal and state supply, hospitals and donations — have already been delivered across the state, it is not enough.
“The fact of the matter is, we need to seize our own destiny,” Inslee said at a news conference. “Now it is time for all of us to turn to manufacturing the equipment we need in this fight, in this war.”
Inslee said he hopes manufacturers would be willing to shift to making things like surgical and N95 masks, swab tests, saline solution, vials, gloves, surgical gowns and face shields.
Officials with the Association of Washington Business say they have been working with the state Department of Commerce for the past few weeks to determine how companies could help.
The Commerce Department said Wednesday approximately 350 manufacturers have already reached out, and many are already producing — including about 40 distilleries that are now making hand sanitizer, and outdoor apparel company Outdoor Research, which is now making hundreds of thousands of surgical and protective masks.
Inslee encouraged other companies to reach out through a website the state set up if they would like to sign on.
Kris Johnson, president and CEO of the Association of Washington Business, said manufacturers are “eager to join this effort by retooling their shops to make personal protective equipment such as face shields, gowns and other items to keep our health care providers and other front-line workers safe.”
President Donald Trump on Wednesday acknowledged that the federal stockpile is nearly depleted of personal protective equipment used by doctors and nurses to shield themselves from the coronavirus. Concerns about the stockpile levels were first reported Wednesday by the Washington Post.
Inslee said those concerns are why the state “can’t depend on being rescued here.”
“We have to do self-rescue,” he said.
Inslee said he would still like to see Trump make a national call to manufacturers using the Defense Production Act.
“While I am grateful for many things the federal government has done for our state already, I still am hopeful that the federal government will up its game by bringing more manufacturing might, the same might that won World War II,” he said.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in several weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
Inslee issued a stay-at-home order last week that is in effect through April 6, and ordered all non-essential businesses to close through at least April 8. The latest orders expanded previous actions taken by Inslee that ordered the statewide closure of bars, dine-in restaurants and entertainment and recreation facilities, and banned large gatherings.
Inslee repeated Wednesday that those orders are likely to be extended.
Also Wednesday, 130 Washington National Guardsmen were preparing to support food banks across the state, including in King, Pierce, Chelan and Franklin Counties.
Karina Shagren, a spokeswoman for the Washington Military Department, said the hope is to have soldiers and airmen in place starting Friday, and that they will be used to fill critical staffing needs.
Shagren said many food banks are operated by volunteers who fall into the at-risk categories, so members of the National Guard will ensure food banks have the personnel necessary to keep them up and running and ensure they’re able to continue to provide food to those who need it.
National Guard members will be doing everything from unloading trucks to packing boxes and distributing food, she said.