Despite being the first state forced to confront the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said Wednesday that reopening there is still "quite a ways away," even though mitigation measures, such as social distancing, are having a "beneficial impact" at stopping the virus' spread.
"It's much easier and much truer to be able to tell you when it is not the right time (to reopen) than to tell you when is the right time," Inslee said on the ABC News "Powerhouse Politics" podcast. "It's not the right time today or even two weeks from now, because the modeling has shown clearly that the curve will start to go up again if we were to full scale remove our social distancing measures right now that are having a beneficial impact."
Two things need to happen in order to start retreating from social distancing and reopening business in the state, Inslee told ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl and Political Director Rick Klein.
First, they need to get the number of cases down low enough to not be risking a resurgence and to have the ability to track and treat the virus on an individual level. And second, they need to build up a "fire brigade" that's prepared to swiftly and comprehensively respond to people reporting symptoms. Inslee said this would need to happen in phases.
"It can't be a light switch," he said.
Inslee added that while he understand it's frustrating to residents to not have a timeline for when things like concerts, sporting events and other large gatherings can take place again, "the honest answer is (it will be) later than we would like."
"Whatever that day is, it'll be earlier if all of us abide by the orders we're putting in place, and it will be later if we do not," he said.
The first case of novel coronavirus was confirmed in Washington nearly three months ago, on Jan. 21. It was the first outbreak in the United States, and foreshadowed how deadly the virus could be once it took hold in a nursing home after more than 30 residents of the Seattle area's Life Care Center of Kirkland died of the virus.
Inslee announced a statewide stay-at-home order on March 23. According to Johns Hopkins University, there are over 10,000 confirmed cases and more than 500 coronavirus deaths in Washington. Once the original hot spot, these numbers now put Washington behind 12 other states in terms of number of cases.
The governor was asked about President Donald Trump's comments calling out governors, including him, for how they're handling the coronavirus outbreak.
"We're certainly not paying attention to the, just kind of the background noise of the president's -- you know -- disparaging me. We have a higher responsibility," he said. "We just treat that as background noise."
In a Fox News interview on March 26, Trump said of Inslee, "He should be doing more. He shouldn't be relying on the federal government. Gov. Inslee, that's the state of Washington. He was a failed presidential candidate. And you know, he's always complaining."
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States on the East Coast and the West Coast have formed their own independent regional pacts in charting their paths toward reopening. Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Monday the East Coast group includes New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware and Massachusetts on Monday. Following that, Gov. Gavin Newsom similarly announced the West Coast group -- including Oregon, Washington and his state of California.
On Tuesday, the president seemed to suggest that Democratic governors were involved in a "mutiny" against the federal government.
"Tell the Democrat Governors that “Mutiny On The Bounty” was one of my all time favorite movies. A good old fashioned mutiny every now and then is an exciting and invigorating thing to watch, especially when the mutineers need so much from the Captain," he tweeted.
Later, in the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing, Trump said he would be "authorizing each individual governor of each individual state to implement a reopening and a very powerful reopening plan of their state at a time and in a manner as most appropriate."
On "Powerhouse Politics," Inslee said he found it interesting Trump "described the governors as involved in a mutiny" and then went on to give them the "authority to do what we've always had authority to do in our states."
"It's kind of like Captain Bligh giving Fletcher Christian authority to sail off to Pitcairn Island," Inslee quipped, playing off the president's movie reference.
Despite facing some criticism from the commander-in-chief though, Inslee said the state government's relationship with the federal government is "in pretty good shape," specifically mentioning the "productive" and frequent conversations he has with Vice President Mike Pence, and the "very good open communications" with the U.S. Army.
However, the governor also said he's been urging the federal government to "be more aggressive in standing up and fully mobilizing the manufacturing capability of the United States," both in terms of testing capabilities and ensuring enough personal protective equipment for frontline health workers.
He told Karl and Klein that while a national testing strategy would be beneficial, mobilizing U.S. manufacturers to create things like testing swabs and canisters that transport the virus is "really the immediate need and ... a dire need."