By Rachel La Corte | The Associated Press
OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee asked 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.
More than 5,100 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 215 deaths have been reported in Washington state.
Inslee said Wednesday that, while more than 1 million pieces of personal protective equipment — from the federal and state supply, hospitals and donations — already have 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 will be willing to shift to making things like surgical masks, swab tests, saline solution, vials, N95 masks, gloves, surgical gowns and face shields.
Officials with the Association of Washington Business said they have been working with the state Department of Commerce for the past few weeks to determine how companies could help.
Commerce said Wednesday that about 350 manufacturers already have 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 AWB, 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.”
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 but did not extend them.
President Donald Trump on Wednesday acknowledged that the federal stockpile is nearly depleted of personal protective equipment used by doctors and nurses to protect themselves from the coronavirus. Concerns about the stockpile levels were first reported by the Washington Post on Wednesday.
Inslee said those concerns are why the state “can’t depend on being rescued here. We have to do self rescue.”
Inslee said he was still hopeful that Trump would 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.