In the middle of a “third wave” of confirmed COVID 19 cases, Washington Governor Jay Inslee announced a series of mandates that have dramatically slowed the state’s economy. The new rules treat the virus as if the nationwide survival rate of 98.2 percent is actually the death rate. These mandates could very well kill more companies than save lives. That’s why so many companies are having difficulty understanding this new lockdown.
Once again, restaurants and bars are closed for personal service and are forced to make do with only take-away or outdoor seating. Gymnasiums, indoor cinemas and bowling alleys must also be closed.
Commercial outlets and personal care services, such as hairdressers and nail salons, may remain open, but are limited to only 25 percent capacity. Freelance services must instruct their staff to work remotely whenever possible and, even if staff wear masks, may not use more than 25 percent of the building’s capacity. Open days in real estate are completely prohibited.
These measures represent an overreaction that will destroy companies at the worst possible time. And they are certainly not based on sound science or solid data.
In the first week of November, when Inslee warned that the state was facing an increase in cases, there were only two combined outbreaks, those attributable to retail and hospitality – and zero, those attributable to grocery stores, real estate, bars and personal service providers. However, these businesses suffer the most from the consequences of the new mandates.
Like many other states, Washington’s economy has been affected by COVID-related closures. But thanks to a stable technology sector, the economy was able to avert a real disaster. The state faces a budget deficit of around $4 billion – far less than an earlier forecast that predicted it would double. But behind the success of the technology sector, which has been boosted by the Seattle-based Amazon, lies a painful reality: Washington’s citizens suffer far beyond what context-free unemployment figures would otherwise suggest.
In Seattle, some restaurants, cafés and boutique retail outlets owe their existence to a steady stream of Amazonian workers as customers. When Amazon and others switched to a “work-from-home” model, nearby businesses suffered a major setback.
Because they worked from home, Amazon employees no longer came to the Bravehorse Tavern, owned by Tom Douglas, for burgers and beer. In July, the chef and restaurant owner announced that he would close the restaurant permanently, along with a second one. Other restaurants followed this example, with at least 40 in the area permanently closed.
In downtown Seattle alone, at least 140 establishments permanently closed, according to the Downtown Seattle Association. Now, as downtown visitor traffic increases again for the Christmas shopping season, visitors will be forced to restrict access to their stores and probably cut staff hours at the same time.
The problems extend far beyond Seattle.
With the aviation industry suffering so dramatically, Boeing has announced that it will withdraw production of the 787 aircraft from Snohomish County. This will affect at least 1,000 jobs, in addition to the previously announced 12,600 redundancies and takeovers.
In Spokane County, the 25-34 year old workers are the most affected. They account for almost 50 percent of the total unemployed. The tragic irony is that this age demographics accounts for only 2 percent of all deaths across the country.
Inslee has no plan to deal with the inevitable economic impact of another ruinous closure. He admits that he has only a meager amount of funds for corporate grants and loans and has no meaningful distribution plan. The governor is waiting for federal funds to help him.
There is a way to slow down the spread of COVID while helping the economy. It begins and ends with the promotion of containment efforts.
When public health officials tirelessly promoted containment efforts, from wearing masks to social distancing, COVID cases were manageable. But in the few weeks leading up to and during the November elections, Inslee and other reasonable requests to remain vigilant in the fight against COVID gave up. Add less news to the pandemic fatigue during a vacation season and you have a recipe for an increase in cases.
It is undoubtedly true that the data show that Washington is in the middle of a third wave. There is an increase in cases and hospitalizations. But public health officials stress that private social gatherings are responsible for the current increase. For this reason, the governor has asked the state to cancel Thanksgiving plans for travel to family members.
Retailers and restaurants have followed strict COVID protocols, which is why they are associated with so few outbreaks. In the Pierce, Walla Walla and Clark Counties, for example, less than 1 percent of COVID cases were attributed to restaurants. This new round of forced closures, warned Anthony Anton, president of the Washington Hospitality Association, will destroy 100,000 jobs nationwide. This is a shocking statistic.
Why should restaurants suffer if they are not responsible for the increase? Inslee explained that “we must reduce these transfers wherever we can” and argued that the mandates are not a form of punishment. Instead, Inslee claims that “we need to identify every single environment in which this transition can take place” – although, strangely, he hasn’t stopped the Seahawks from playing two home games at Lumen Field since the beginning of his new mandates.
We’re heading into the vacation season where more family and friends will spend time together. Inslee offers a ban on social gatherings in closed rooms, which, he admits, is not enforceable. So the only mandates he will enforce are those against companies that are in trouble and are not responsible for the current increase. In what reality is this fair, and in what reality will it not decimate the state economy?
Jason Rantz is a frequent guest at Fox News and hosts the Jason Rantz show at KTTH Seattle, which is on weekdays in the afternoon. You can subscribe to his podcast here and follow him on Twitter: @jasonrantz.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.