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Inside Olympia – COVID Update, & a Conversation with Lt. Gov. Denny Heck

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This week we get a COVID update from the state’s epidemiologist, plus talk with Washington Lieutenant Governor Denny Heck about housing, the 2022 legislative session, and more.

Dr. Scott Lindquist is a pediatrician, plus works for the WA State Department of Health as the state’s epidemiologist for infectious diseases. He discusses the recent uptick in COVID cases, after several weeks of downward trend.

According to Lindquist, the rising cases are a cause for concern, but not yet for a return to mask mandates or other government intervention, which he says should be used judiciously. The Department of Health is convening a work group that will recommend what metrics the department should look for before proposing a mask mandate.

Lindquist says that as COVID winds down, we need to reintegrate services like testing and vaccincations back into the existing health care system, where those services are provided in individual doctor’s offices rather than at testing or vaccination centers that are stood up by state government.

When he was a U.S. Congressman, Denny Heck worked closely on the issue of housing. Now, as Washington Lieutenant Governor, Heck has made housing one of his signature issues.

He says Washington has an affordable housing crisis, that the state has the lowest number of available housing units for its population among all the states, “and it’s not even close.”

He gives the 2022 Legislature mixed grades on housing. On the one hand, he says they did a good job providing funding and direction to address homelessness. On the other, he says the Legislature failed to do enough for workforce housing, including not passing the “missing middle” bill debated in Olympia this year, which would have rezoned areas near transit centers to allow multi-family housing. He notes that local governments are now stepping in with their own local upzoning policies.

Debriefing on the 2022 legislative session in general, Heck gives the State Senate, for which he is the presiding officer, high marks for maintaining civil debate even when arguing contentious issues. The 2022 session was conducted largely virtual, due to COVID — Heck hopes the 2023 session will be back to in person, assuming COVID is under control. He says the personal back-and-forth is critical to legislative deliberations and to our form of government.

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