Snohomish County’s request for a variance from the governor’s office that would allow it to advance to the second phase of the state’s Safe Start plan appears to dovetail well with Gov. Jay Inslee’s announcement Friday that he would not extend his stay-home orders past Sunday, instead allowing counties to advance through the plan’s phases as they meet specific benchmarks.
To be clear, while the order has lifted, restrictions — and the need for caution — remain.
The Snohomish County Council voted Friday to forward a request to the governor’s office to allow the county to move to the second of four phases for resuming economic activity, joining more than 25 other counties who already have reached specific milestones that will allow restaurant dining areas, most retail outlets, beauty salons, barbershops, pet groomers and others to reopen in a limited capacity, among other eased restrictions.
Even as there remains a range of opinion among elected officials and residents throughout the county regarding the particulars of the restrictions still in place, the request — recognizing that Snohomish County still falls short regarding some of the criteria, including the rate of new infections — shouldn’t be taken as favoring the economy over public health. Pitting one against the other has been a false choice from the start; without the stay-home orders, Washington state — along with a death toll far higher than the current 1,106 — would have suffered even harsher economic hardships.
But the county’s request is a recognition of the dual necessity for continued social-distancing precautions and a gradual resumption of economic activity.
Snohomish County officials can make the case to the state that the county has met or is nearing all of the requirements necessary regarding infections, supplies of protective gear, tracing and more.
But there are also economic figures that argue for special consideration, chief among them last week’s report of a 20.2 percent unemployment rate for Snohomish County, the highest in the state; news that was followed the next day by Boeing’s announcement that it planned to cut more than 10,000 jobs in the state through layoffs and buyouts. Nearly half of Boeing’s 70,000-strong workforce in the state works at the Everett plant.
The state, we believe, can approve the county’s request with confidence for success and safety, but that only increases the responsibility for county officials, businesses and residents to maintain social-distancing practices that protect public health.
Residents and businesses — especially as both increase their interaction with others in the public — need to rededicate themselves to social-distancing, including frequent hand-washing, sanitizing of surfaces at home and at work, and the use of face masks, particularly indoors and in areas where it’s more difficult to maintain at least six feet of distance.
But resuming and rebuilding the economy at the local and state level will take more than an “all-clear” from the governor’s office.
Gov. Inslee and others have compared the restart to turning a dimmer switch that relaxes restrictions as various milestones are met. But the actual work to rebuild the economy will be far more complicated and will require a coordinated and comprehensive effort among business owners, workers, residents and public officials.
Planning for much of that work in the county is now being discussed by the county’s Economic Workforce and Recovery Task Force. Led by co-chairpersons Amy Drewel and former Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson, the task force includes representatives of cities and county government and leaders from business, labor and nonprofit agencies, who will develop and implement strategies to assist the recovery.
A recent teleconference among many of the task force members pointed to a number of factors that will have to be addressed as the lights come up. Among observations by task force members:
Many customers will only return to retail shops when they believe it’s safe, which will require steps that will require adequate supplies of face masks and other protective equipment, shielding between customers and employees and other improvements, which will mean expense and training that not all businesses can manage on their own.
Restaurants and some business will be allowed to open but at a reduced capacity that may not allow those businesses to generate enough income to make operating financially feasible, said Jason Gamble, an executive with Comcast and member of the Monroe City Council.
And a shortage of childcare facilities, coupled with continued uncertainty over when and at what occupancy schools will reopen, could keep many employees — particularly women — from easily returning to work, noted Lisa Lefeber, chief executive for the Port of Everett.
“Childcare will be the biggest constraint for economic recovery, especially for families with young children,” Lefeber said.
Even if the state grants the county’s request to join other counties in Phase 2, some will continue to chafe under the restrictions that remain while others will question the wisdom of allowing the increased public interaction. That’s the balance implied in the two words: Safe Start.
And fulfilling both words will require everyone’s commitment and effort.