Spokane Journal of Business

The Journal’s View: Nuanced approach need in bringing back business

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We get it. We, as a business community, understand the seriousness of coronavirus and why we’re being asked to participate in social distancing. At the same time, each of us also knows our respective businesses better than anyone else and is capable of taking measures to keep employees and customers safe as we adapt to the COVID-19 crisis. 

With that in mind, Gov. Jay Inslee should take a nuanced approach to relaxing restrictions put in place by his “Stay Home, Stay Safe” mandate meant to slow the spread of the disease. He and those who surround him should take into account employers’ abilities to put safety protocols in place that work in lockstep with the state’s goals.

Such a strategy should factor in the day-to-day functions of a company and its ability to work while minimizing or eliminating human contact. It also needs to consider geography, the number of cases in a given area, and the characteristics of diverse communities.

This approach would require moving away from the essential-nonessential mindset and nomenclature. It would necessitate looking rationally at what can be done without putting more people’s health in jeopardy.

Granted, as the number of cases of coronavirus climbed and deaths started to stack up, reducing society’s physical interactions and functions to the bare minimum made sense. Such measures appear to have been effective in slowing the spread of the disease. Also, ensuring that a damaging resurgence in cases doesn’t occur now is an understandable goal.

But even in that light, there is merit to the argument that the essential-nonessential mindset needs to go away sooner rather than later. Despite best intentions, some interpretations of what’s “essential” are subjective, if not political.

Understanding the big picture, the business community has gone along with inconsistencies. Many roll their eyes at marijuana retailers being classified as essential. Others have joked about the need for hair stylings and nail appointments to become more essential as the weeks have passed.

Jokes aside, some of the most worrisome inconsistencies are those governing the construction industry. Landscapers worked side by side at the new Moran Prairie Park and Ride bus stop the day after Inslee’s mandate, because government projects are essential. 

Meantime, construction of a new apartment complex down the hill halted, and the site remains dormant. One could argue that if anything should be considered essential in a state that places restriction after restriction on development then wrings its hands over housing inventory and affordability, it should be creating new living units.

As the weeks have gone on, rational calls to loosen restrictions thoughtfully and cautiously have become more common in the business community. If not now, the state should heed such words soon.

Inslee’s comments, at times, suggest he’s going to take a measured approach to loosening restrictions. He refers to easing the mandate as turning a dial, not flicking a switch. 

We hope such comments signal targeted easing that is in concert with goals of a gradual return to a functional society.

More Washingtonians can work safely. And should be allowed to do so.

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