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Vice President Pence Visits Washington State Amid Coronavirus Outbreak


Vice President Mike Pence and Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee held a joint press conference tonight. Pence has been in Pierce County, Wash., to meet with state officials and assess the status of the coronavirus outbreak there. Here to tell us more is Austin Jenkins of the Northwest News Network.

Welcome to the program


CORNISH: First, can you give us the state of play in Washington, a rough idea of the number of cases and what Mike Pence was, essentially, walking into?

JENKINS: Yeah. Right now Washington state has at least 70 confirmed cases, 11 of the nation's 12 deaths. The vice president said Washington state is on the front lines of the coronavirus in America, and he said other states are going to be looking to the state of Washington in terms of how to react as this spreads across the country. The vice president offered condolences to the families of those who have died. He mentioned that standards for infection control in nursing homes across the country are being raised immediately. Of course, we've had a concentrated outbreak of coronavirus in that particular nursing home care in Kirkland, Wash. He said that all 8,000 CMS nursing home inspectors are going to be focused on compliance with infection control at nursing homes across the country because they're clearly very worried about that vulnerable population.

CORNISH: Did Gov. Jay Inslee make any specific requests? Did Vice President Mike Pence make any specific offers?

JENKINS: Well, there is certainly concern - ongoing concern here and across the country about availability of testing. And what the medical experts were saying is that it is actually vitally important that people even with more mild symptoms be tested because that will help them start to understand this virus better. So there was talk at this news conference and assurances that testing is going to become more widely available in the coming weeks, that it may be even, at some point, the kind of thing that you can get from your doctor directly or from the pharmacy down the street. But they're not there yet.

Meantime, one thing that did happen today is a shipment came to Washington state from Atlanta of supplies - medical supplies that are desperately needed for front-line health care workers and first responders. But it's really only half of what our state has asked for. Apparently, they're going to get the second half at some point, but they don't know when.

CORNISH: Is there anything else the vice president had to say?

JENKINS: Well, there was a lot of talk about, at some point, getting to the bottom of what happened at this Life Care Center of Kirkland, where there have been several confirmed cases where several of the deaths have stemmed from. There's clearly an interest in doing an investigation to figure out how that happened. When that investigation will happen and when we might have answers isn't clear at this point. But that was certainly touched on here.

And I think beyond that, there is still just that sense of, how widespread is this? How serious is this? And what the medical experts kept emphasizing is that most Americans do not have to be wildly alarmed about this right now, but there is certainly a segment of the population that is very much at risk. And what's clear is we still just don't clearly understand, A, how widespread this is and how vulnerable people are to serious illness and even death. And that's the big unknown right now still.

CORNISH: That's Austin Jenkins of the Northwest News Network on Vice President Mike Pence's visit to Washington state.

Thank you for your reporting.

JENKINS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."
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