Businesses, legislators advocate flexibility, autonomy with reopening policies

Businesses, legislators advocate flexibility, autonomy with reopening policies
Governor Jay Inslee has unveiled additional details on how businesses such as restaurants can reopen, though critics say a decentralized, voluntary approach could also be done. Photo: freepik.com

Governor Jay Inslee has unveiled additional details about how businesses such as restaurants can partially reopen, along with information about the latest state efforts to trace COVID-19 cases and prevent it from spreading. However, some critics say a decentralized, voluntary approach would allow businesses to reopen faster without compromising people’s health.

At a May 12 press  , Inslee said that the state intends to ramp up testing along with efforts to isolate new cases through a  statewide contact tracing initiative involving the state Department of Health and the National Guard, which he called an “extension” of what local health districts have done in the past to contain pandemics. Under Inslee’s plan, anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 must quarantine themselves for 14 days, along with everyone else in the household.

“If we do not succeed in this, what you might think of (as) the second stage of our efforts, this virus could jump back and bite us,” Inslee said. “It is supremely important to our ability to reopen our economy and our businesses while simultaneously protecting our health.”

Along with “essential businesses,” he last week reopened state parks, along with car washes, landscaping activities and elective surgeries. Before that he permitted   after it was labeled “nonessential.”

Inslee has also implemented a “start safe” plan that allows counties with a population below 75,000 to apply to the state Department of Health for a variance to his “stay at home” order to reopen businesses such as restaurants. So far, eight eligible counties have applied for a variance, while Kittitas County has applied and currently is under review.

However, that authorization comes with a variety of stipulations ranging from limiting the number of people in an establishment to collecting daily information on customers such as name, phone number and email.  Inslee said the information will help the state identify people who have been potentially exposed to someone with COVID-19. When asked about privacy concerns, Inslee told reporters that protocols will be implemented such as deleting the information after 14 days.

“Here’s the deal: We want to be able to open restaurants,” he said. “People are anxious about that.”

Other elected officials have voiced criticism of Inslee’s approach, which they see as excessively micromanaging. After Inslee extended his “stay at home” order last week, several state Republican legislators filed a lawsuit, while Democrat lawmakers urged him to permit X COUNTY to reopen sooner.

Others such as Senate Ways and Means Committee Ranking Member John Braun (R-20) believe businesses, which have already collaborated on safety guidelines, should be able to decide how to adequately protect their employees and customers.

In a May 11 open letter to Inslee, Braun wrote: “a system of government that dictates to 7.6 million Washingtonians what to do and how to do it – every waking moment of the day – will never work. What’s desperately needed is a government that informs people what the objective is and gives people discretion and room to navigate to accomplish that aim.”

He added that “issuing 22-point requirements on what a car-wash business must follow in order to be allowed to operate…is beyond the pale and symptomatic of a government-knows-best mentality that is wholly detached from reality and historically replete with error.”

Braun was also a member of the state’s short-lived Business Recovery Legislative Task Force, which was disbanded after only five meetings. In a statement, Braun and committee member Sen. Lynda Wilson (R-17) said: “we were encouraged that the governor seemed to be moving away from a central-planning approach and was interested in considering other opinions, but this ended almost as soon as it began.”

Also frustrated by the task force’s dissolution is Sen. Mark Mullet (D-5), who operates Zeeks Pizza in Issaquah. During a May 12 webinar with the Bellevue Chamber he said that “finding safe ways to go back to work right now is the number one focus we can have. The more industries we can get back to work in a safe fashion, the quicker our tax revenues will recover.”

Overseeing the state’s health care system is Vice Admiral Raquel Bono. During a May 11 interview with TVW, she said “I think everyone would agree that there probably isn’t a one-size-fits-all that would apply across the state” as opposed to “a more regional approach that takes into account the variances or the differences or the actual impact that COVID-19 has had.”

She added that “I don’t think that we’re out of the woods. In order to be able to resume some type of normalcy…we’re going to have to find ways to live with COVID-19 in a very safe way.”

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