Marysville leaders ask Inslee to open local stores, churches

They believe these places should be able to reopen with safety measures, as big box stores have.

Jon Nehring

Jon Nehring

MARYSVILLE — Months after storefronts first shuttered, Mayor Jon Nehring and the Marysville City Council have asked Gov. Jay Inslee to allow churches and many small businesses to reopen.

The mayor signed on to two different letters with other Snohomish County leaders, and the city council sent its own. In each, they thanked the governor for his decisions made early on in the fight against COVID-19.

Now they believe more places should be able to open with safety measures in place, especially because some big companies have been able to operate amid the pandemic.

Most Marysville businesses are small and medium in size, Nehring said. Shop owners have wondered why they can’t welcome in a few customers at a time, while big stores have been allowing crowds of people to shop.

“It’s hard for these people to reconcile that, when they think they can operate in a much safer manner,” Nehring said.

In Snohomish County, at least 3,154 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed, along with 131 deaths. The daily number of new infections has been declining since late March — a trend that public health officials have largely credited to social distancing and other efforts to stifle the spread of COVID-19.

Marysville, the second-largest city in the county, has seen 242 cases and 11 deaths. That’s the fourth-most infections in a Snohomish County city, behind Everett, Lynnwood and Edmonds, according to data from the Snohomish Health District.

Nehring first signed a letter dated April 24, with 16 other mayors and two county councilmembers. The group asked Inslee for specifics on his plan to restart the economy.

About a week later, the governor introduced a four-stage approach to opening up the state. Phase 1 of Inslee’s plan began May 5, allowing drive-up religious services. Retail stores, restaurants, hairdressers and other businesses are allowed to reopen with restrictions during the second phase, no earlier than June 1 in the state’s most populated counties.

Most everything else is expected to reopen in the third phase, though no date has been set. At that time, gatherings larger than 50 people still will not be allowed.

Nehring signed another letter dated May 6, asking to ease restrictions on small businesses and churches.

Mayors who signed on included Bob Colinas of Brier, Matthew Hartman of Granite Falls, Norm Johnson of Index, Brett Gailey of Lake Stevens, Geoffrey Thomas of Monroe, John Kartak of Snohomish, Russell Wiita of Sultan, Leonard Kelley of Stanwood and Carla Nichols of Woodway, plus county councilmembers Sam Low and Nate Nehring.

“For many of these businesses in our respective communities, it was all they could do to hold on after the first extension of the stay Home/Stay Healthy restrictions through May 5th,” the letter reads. “They are now faced with trying to figure out a way to survive another 4 weeks at minimum.”

They suggested limiting the number of people in a store at one time, and providing employees and shoppers with proper protective gear if they come within 6 feet of one another.

If Marysville’s request were granted by the governor, the state would be in charge of implementing safety rules, Nehring said.

The mayor believes it’s the elected officials’ duty to get the governor’s attention for these small business owners.

“They depend on us to be their voice,” Nehring said.

On May 11, the Marysville City Council sent its own letter. One of their major concerns was churches being closed. They’re appreciative of the governor for allowing drive-in services, but say that isn’t enough.

“Now more than ever, our churches are needed to provide hope and support to the many victims of this crisis in a way the government simply cannot,” the letter reads.

They also worry about unemployment, and don’t believe it’s fair that most locally owned retail stores have had to close while many big companies have not.

“If we can be in a big box store and stand in line and be around dozens and dozens of people, our small businesses can open safely as well,” council president Kamille Norton said.

Councilmember Kelly Richards recalled speaking with one business owner in the building industry who lost an estimated $200,000 in sales in the shutdown, compared to the year before.

“You can’t survive that, not for very long,” Richards said. “I can’t imagine the people who have to open in Phase 3 and 4, I can’t imagine how they are going to survive.”

He also believes the shutdown is causing emotional pain that may be more harmful than people realize.

“How did the government decide who’s essential and who isn’t?” he asked. “That’s what I don’t think is fair.”

It’s not clear how safety measures would be enforced if stores and churches were allowed to open sooner than June 1. Nehring said it would be up to the governor, who so far has relied on voluntary compliance.

“All the people involved in this conversation, nobody wants to just wholesale reopen,” Nehring said.

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