Spokane Journal of Business

The Journal’s View: Employers need clearer path than Roadmap To Recovery provides

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Washington state’s Roadmap to Recovery doesn’t yet show Spokane businesses how to get where they want to be, which is fully opened and thriving with a COVID-19 pandemic at bay.

Employers deserve more clarity on what future phases of recovery look like and what it’s going to take to get back to business as somewhat usual.

As it stands, Gov. Jay Inslee has mapped out two phases of recovery—and only one opportunity to advance. He’s expected to announce on Friday, Feb. 12, whether the Eastern Washington region will advance to the second phase. If not, it’ll be another two weeks in Phase 1.

The two-phase approach would be more feasible if the second phase provided some reasonable avenue for increasing commercial activity, but that’s not case. In many instances, the differences are subtle. In others, there is no difference.

Under the current phase, retailers are required to limit customer volumes to 25% of store capacity and encourage curbside pickup. In the second phase, retailers still will be operating under the same restrictions.

For restaurants, restrictions ease, but only subtly. Indoor dining is permitted at 25% capacity in the second phase, in addition to the outdoor and open-air dining allowed currently. Other restrictions regarding maximum table seating and alcohol service stay the same.

Such businesses, all of which are nearing a year of withstanding stops, starts, and all-out shutdowns, should receive from state lawmakers a clearer path moving forward. Of course, those that are limping along are doing so as many other restaurants and retailers remain dark, some waiting out the pandemic and others are closed for good.

We say all of this with full acknowledgement of and respect for the state’s attempts to corral the virus and save lives. In general, we understand state leaders are operating in dynamic conditions with changing variables. They are learning, to a degree, as they go.

But the private sector is learning, too. Most businesses have implemented a series of measures meant to keep employees and customers safe and to prevent spread of the virus while remaining in operation. Such operators should be acknowledged for their new, innovative approaches, and their effort should be a factor in future iterations of the Roadmap to Recovery.

For their part, all businesses need to continue to be vigilant in their endeavors to stop the spread of the virus and to help reduce numbers of total cases in our community. It’s the only path to getting back to some semblance of pre-pandemic business operations.

By and large, businesses are doing their part.

Earlier this week, Inslee and the state Legislature made a positive step by signing into law Senate Bill 5061, which provides unemployment tax relief for business and support for unemployed workers. The fact that it’s the first bill signed into law during the current Legislative session is an encouraging gesture.

But employers need more from the state in terms of a vision for the future. The Roadmap to Recovery doesn’t lead anywhere, presently—at least, not to a place where businesses can remain viable.

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