Businesses collaborate on plans to safely reopen

Businesses collaborate on plans to safely reopen
As most Washington employers remain closed under Governor Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home order, state and regional business groups are collaborating on ways to safely reopen. Photo: freepik.com

As Governor Jay Inslee’s “stay at home” order continues to keep most businesses throughout the state closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, state and regional business groups are collaborating on the best practices that some hope will inspire confidence in state officials that they can safely reopen.

While Inslee’s latest press conference offered no hint of when or at what point regular business activity will resume, Challenge Seattle and Washington have released recommendations for employers on how to maintain a safe environment for both workers and customers. Challenge Seattle is an alliance of 19 regional CEOS, while Washington Roundtable consists of the leaders from major state employers.

Washington Roundtable President Steve Mullin told Lens the recommendations will aid employers in preparing health plans, but will also send a message to the state that they can resume business without endangering public health.

“I hear broad belief among employers that they can open and operate safely,” he said. “Businesses are extraordinarily anxious to reopen. What we’re hoping is that these guidelines help to develop the plans and procedures to reopen in a way that bring confidence to their customers and employees. Businesses need to demonstrate they can operate safely. There is going to be a broad expectation that they have a plan…no matter how big or small it is.”

Although the general safety recommendations are based in part on discussions with public health officials, Mullin noted that they are suggestions – not requirements. Yet, the report notes that “employers have a strong incentive to meet (and exceed…when appropriate) baseline recommendations, as adverse public health outcomes could result in more stringent restrictions.”

Challenge Seattle CEO and former Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire said in a statement that “these resources will help businesses prepare for when the state begins to move from an environment where only essential businesses can operate to one where safe businesses can operate.”

Other partnerships have also formed in the Puget Sound region. This week Madrona Venture Group launched a “Back to Work Toolkit” made in collaboration with other venture capital firms, as well as the Bellevue and Seattle Chambers of Commerce.

Yet for employers and workers still unable to work, it remains unclear when the shift away from only “essential activity” will occur. Inslee’s stay-at-home order lasts until May 4 but could possibly be extended. At his April 29 press conference he said that maintaining the current policy will prevent a second wave of infections: “The quickest way to reopen our economy is to make sure we get this job done. We do not want to go through this pain again.”

Although Inslee signed a pact with California and Oregon that calls for a collaborative approach to reopening, he clarified that it’s “more of an agreement to communicate than a pact for some common decision-making.”

Last week, Inslee released a state recovery plan calling for a gradual, phased-in reopening of businesses but did not outline specific timelines for that action. In an April 27 webinar with Madrona, Gregoire said that they’ve relayed to the governor’s office information on “how to phase-in reopening and what the timelines are in each phase.”

Inslee said during the April 29 press conference that “there is consideration” of a regional strategy for reopening business. “We have not made a final decision on that, but it’s something we’re continuing to look at the data about.”

In an op-ed for Crosscut, Seattle Chamber of Commerce VP Markham McIntyre and Alaska Airlines External Relations VP Diana Birkett Rakow argued that state and local governments can aid economy recovery by deferring or suspending various taxes such as the property tax and the business and occupation tax.

Inslee is scheduled to give another press conference May 1.

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