Inslee tests positive for COVID-19, cases on the rise

·4 min read

May 26—OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee has tested positive for COVID-19.

According to a press release from Inslee's office on Wednesday, the governor tested positive following a rapid antigen test, and is experiencing mild symptoms including a mild cough. The statement said Inslee is consulting with his doctor to start Paxlovid anti-viral treatments.

"I am experiencing very mild symptoms and am most glad I'm vaccinated and boosted," said Inslee, who according to the statement is fully vaccinated and has received two booster shots. "I hope others consider getting their booster because it's very effective in preventing serious illness."

Jamie Smith, Inslee's communications director, said the governor is working from home.

In addition, Lt. Gov. Denny Heck also announced on Wednesday that he has tested positive for COVID-19, and was also working from home, was experiencing mild symptoms, and said he is expected to begin treatment with antiviral Paxlovid.

"I previously tested positive in February but experienced no symptoms," Heck said in a statement. "I look forward to resuming my full public schedule once cleared to do so."

Both Inslee's and Heck's announcements come as the Washington State Department of Health reported a rise in COVID-19 cases statewide. During the first press briefing on the pandemic in several months, held on Zoom prior to the governor's announcement, Secretary of Health Umair Shah said it's important for people to remain vigilant, keep testing kits on hand in case they have been exposed or don't feel well, get their booster shots and wear a mask if they spend any time in crowded indoor settings.

"The pandemic is not over," Shah said. "Get boosted, get tested, and wear a mask if you have medical conditions or are in a place that's poorly ventilated."

Speaking via a sometimes-spotty connection, Shah said state officials are concerned about the increase in both reported cases of COVID-19 and hospitalizations for the disease, though there has not yet been any increase in reported deaths from the pandemic, which hit the state in early 2020 and prompted more than a year or lock downs and restrictions on public gatherings and business activities.

"And we want to keep it that way," Shah said of the fairly low death rate from the latest wave of COVID-19.

According to the Washington State Department of Health's COVID-19 dashboard, statewide the reported cases of the novel coronavirus as of May 22 are 245 per 100,000 people, with 6% of all hospital beds statewide currently occupied by COVID-19 patients. By comparison, Grant County reports 103 pandemic cases per 100,000 people, while Adams County is reporting a COVID-19 rate of 29 cases per 100,000 residents.

For the entire state, that's up from a low of 40 cases per 100,000 in March but down from a high of 1,800 per 100,000 people in January during the height of the pandemic wave attributed to the fast-spreading omicron variant.

Shah said with the arrival of cheap and free at-home test kits, the number of COVID-19 cases statewide is likely being under-reported.

Lacy Fehrenbach, the deputy secretary of health for prevention, safety and health, said the state is not instituting a mask mandate, but that people who spend time in crowded situations indoors, have relatives or loved ones who are immunocompromised or have family members who are not vaccinated should probably continue to wear a mask, preferably a properly-fitted KN-95, N-95 or KF-94 mask.

"Some will simply feel safer wearing a mask," she said.

Fehrenbach also said keeping up to date on vaccinations and boosters is "the best way to prevent serious illness, hospitalization and death."

For information on where to get a vaccine or a booster dose, contact the Washington State Department of Health's hotline at 833-VAX-HELP or visit https://vaccinelocator.doh.wa.gov. For information on the booster vaccine schedules for the various types of COVID-19 vaccines, visit doh.wa.gov/emergencies/covid-19/vaccine-information/vaccine-booster-doses.

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at cfeatherstone@columbiabasinherald.com.