5 Things Washington: Umair Shah, Re-Wire conference, Committee Days

As you may have heard me say at State of Reform, it wasn’t entirely clear that we would still be here in November when the COVID crash happened. Event-based revenue organizations like ours have collapsed across the country.

But, thanks to folks like you, we’re still here. We’re still trying to foster conversation in a non-partisan and policy agnostic sort of way, across our digital content and now-virtual conferences. And, you’re still supporting the work at this intersection of health care and health policy.

So, thank you. Thank you for reading, for engaging, and for your support this year of this work at State of Reform. Have a wonderful, warm and love-filled Thanksgiving, in whatever shape that comes this year. We all have more to be thankful for than we probably realize.





With help from Emily Boerger

1. Inslee appoints new Sec. of Health

Inslee last week appointed Umair A. Shah, MD, MPH as Washington’s new state secretary of health, effective Dec. 21. Shah currently serves as executive director and local health authority for Harris County Public Health in Texas. I’ve gotten to know him through our work in Texas, where his work has been a bright spot at the intersection of Medicaid, public health, incarceration and mental health.

Shah’s leadership will help fill what is becoming a widening gap in public health leadership in the state. In addition to the resignations of Sec. of Health John Wiesman and State Health Officer Kathy Lofy, the Yakima Herald reported last week there are 8 counties – Yakima, Walla Walla, Spokane, Whatcom, Lewis, Mason, Chelan-Douglas and Okanogan – with public health official vacancies.

2. Revenue forecast uncertainty

Washington’s latest revenue forecast is better than previously predicted. But this positive news came the same week the newest round of COVID-related restrictions kicked in. Stephen Lerch, Executive Director of the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council, says these restrictions – which include the closure of indoor services at restaurants, bars, gyms, and theaters – are too new to factor into economic projections for the coming months.

“The concern is that if cases continue to spike that there might be additional impacts on the economy,” he said. “Even without additional restrictions, people will pull back, they won’t feel comfortable shopping or doing other things. It’s difficult for us to know exactly the magnitude of those sort of changes.” This is the final forecast before Gov. Inslee releases his budget proposals next month.


3. 2020 Re-Wire Policy Conference

On December 10th, we’re very much looking forward to hosting the 2020 Re-Wire Virtual Policy Conference over at our sister site, the Washington State Wire. Like State of Reform, the 2020 Re-Wire Policy Conference is a non-partisan, policy agnostic platform for civil, civic discourse on policy, politics, and political economy.

Here are a few reasons to consider joining that event. First, we have 30 legislators or legislators-elect confirmed to speak, which is probably as many as you’ll find in one place this year outside of the legislative session. Second, we have US Rep. Adam Smith, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee set for the morning keynote, giving us a unique perspective on DC right now. Finally, we have a great session on COVID and public health policy, that includes Sen. June Robinson, Anthony Chen from Pierce Co, and Nick Streuli from Gov. Inslee’s office.

You can take a look at the Topical Agenda and the Detailed Agenda to see the list of topics and speakers that we have lined up, if you’d care to join us.


4. Committee Days schedule is up

The schedule for Committee Assembly Days in the House and Senate has been posted. Every December, legislators meet in Olympia for interim briefings with staff. This gives legislators a chance to get briefed on subject matter likely to come up in the session, without taking time during the constitutionally limited 105-day legislature.

House and Senate committees will hold 30 different virtual work sessions over the course of Nov. 30-Dec 1, though meetings will run throughout the full week. A few of the meetings on our radar include the Senate Health & Long Term Care Committee on Dec. 1 for updates on the state’s COVID response and the Universal Health Care Work Group. The Senate Behavioral Health Subcommittee also convenes on Dec. 1 for a discussion on the Children & Youth Behavioral Health Work Group recommendations.


5. COVID in context

One can think of COVID in at least two ways. One is in absolute terms. Washington is now averaging 317 COVID cases per 100K people over two weeks, doubling the previous rate spike from July. The goal is to be less than 25 new cases. Ascertainment bias suggests the number is actually between 5-10x higher than that. Hospitalizations are also nearing previous records set at the start of the pandemic when there was an average 7.2 hospitalizations per 100K.

But the variation in cases across the state is striking. According to tracking from Washington’s COVID dashboard, Adams County (1096.8 cases per 100K), Asotin County (950.3 cases), and Garfield County (900.9 cases) are leading the state. By comparison, Wahkiakum County has 23.9 cases per 100K, Okanagan is reporting 53.8 cases per 100K, and Clallam County has 68.4 cases per 100K..

Or, one can think in relative terms. Washington State is 46th in the nation for total cases per capita since March. This map shows much of Washington is doing better than most of the country. Yet, the state is 24th lightest on the index of implementation of restrictive policy measures. Relatively speaking, this is the sweet spot among states: low comparable rates of transmission with only an average level of intervention.

Perhaps Dickens had it right back in1859:  “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”