For weeks, as we sheltered and washed and masked and gloved and distanced and sanitized (or did not) under the state’s Phase I reopening and recovery guidelines, it’s all we’ve been thinking about. We’ve been obsessed with it. How do we get to Phase II? How soon? Why not RIGHT NOW?!
The prevailing belief is that Phase II is the gateway to recovery, the first glimmer of hope for hundreds of mostly small businesses that have been unable to operate, or have been restricted in how they operate while we all lived under the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” directive. Without Phase II, there could be no Phase III or Phase IV.
When the cliché works, go with the cliché: On even casual inspection, Phase II falls into the category of “be careful what you wish for.”
Okanogan County has worked hard to get state approval to move into Phase II, as a majority of the state’s 39 counties already have, but the county’s best efforts have not been enough to overcome the state’s strict guidelines for new infections.
Last week, Gov. Jay Inslee announced a new set of plans for widespread reopening (with requirements, recommendations, and restrictions) for a variety of businesses including retail, restaurants, barbershops, hair salons, pet groomers, and others. Counties still have to apply for variances to move into Phase II reopening.
All along, it seems to me, most people have assumed that Phase II will make things easier for everybody. You can shop at your favorite stores, get a haircut, eat at a restaurant, get your pets groomed, or put your housecleaner back to work. But if you look at it more closely, you’ll understand that Phase II isn’t necessarily easier — especially if you are one of those retailers or restaurateurs who is planning to open the doors as soon as possible.
In fact, the requirements for reopening are downright daunting. The list of safety and operational requirements for Phase II goes on for several pages for each business segment, and in some cases, those requirements are more stringent than Phase I guidelines. Here’s the operative statement in the detailed document for retailers: “No in-store retail establishment may operate until they can meet and maintain all the requirements in this document, including providing materials, schedules, and equipment required to comply. Additional considerations are made as suggestions and may be adopted, as appropriate.”
The operative word in the operative statement: “requirements.” Perhaps most noteworthy: All employees must wear face protection masks unless they don’t have interpersonal contact on the job, or if they have other health issues that make it impractical.
You have certainly noticed that some valley businesses that have been open as “essential” have not been following all the guidelines which are about to become requirements. We’ll see how that goes. Although the state has indicated it may fine noncomplying businesses, local enforcement will be minimal or nonexistent. The towns of Winthrop and Twisp have both indicated they won’t be in the citation business.
As Roni Holder-Diefenbach, executive director of the Okanogan County Economic Alliance, noted in a Methow Valley News story last week: “Businesses, as we know them, will no longer look the same, so that they can protect themselves and their customers.”
Local businesses will be spending a lot of time, money, and staff effort to meet the state’s requirements. It would be nice to cut them a little slack as they get up to speed, and applaud their efforts. At the same time, defiance of compliance may turn out to be a bad business strategy. Businesses and customers will have to make their own decisions about that.
As for you mask-averse customers, get used to not being allowed into some of your favorite places. Businesses can require that you wear a mask, and you don’t get to contest that. Nor should you. It’s not your “freedom” that’s at stake. It’s a community’s long-term health and well-being. If you can’t get behind that, if you can’t show minimal care for your friends and neighbors, if you won’t do the simplest possible thing to help us get through this, I don’t even know what to say to you. Since you don’t seem to be paying attention to what anyone else thinks, I probably won’t say anything. But others might.