There has to be a better way for this state to manage the ongoing coronavirus epidemic. I recently had the opportunity to chat with Rachelle Johnson, the owner of the Inner Circle Gym in Wenatchee, and came away impressed with her creative ideas about how the state could shift from a punishment-based approach to one that is locally driven and that focuses on working with businesses to help them open safely.

She’s participating in the lawsuit against Gov. Jay Inslee that seeks to have the state of emergency overturned. As much as she is frustrated by what she sees as the state micromanaging her business toward extinction, she is also fully committed to the health and well-being of the community and particularly Inner Circle members.

Here’s a fascinating concept she floated in our conversation: Rather than sending out hundreds of state employees to ferret out people who are violating state guidelines, what if those individuals were instructed to work with local businesses and and help them open up safely? That kind of assistance would be greatly appreciated and send a constructive message in this highly partisan time.

Rachelle’s idea is the kind of thinking we need these days, especially in the highly uncertain era of COVID-19. We could very well be dealing with this for years and a state response based on enforcement and punishment while businesses fail, mental health issues increase, and domestic violence rises seems counterproductive.

Rachelle is committed to helping people live healthy lives and her passion for this mission was based on her own healing journey. She described herself as a Wenatchee native who is a recovering alcoholic. She found that getting in shape was instrumental in resisting the desire to take another drink. In the process, she lost 45 pounds and discovered a way of contributing to the others who were struggling with anxiety.

The married mother of four is deeply committed to helping other moms who struggle in taking positive steps toward healing. Her network of friends and members are telling her that the uncertainties and stresses with COVID-19 is taking toll on their physical and mental health.

Last December, she and her husband Blaine purchased the Inner Circle Gym, with co-founder Adam Vognild staying on as manager. The gym provides a unique community of support for people of all ages to gain strength and fitness.

Three months into their venture, the Johnsons were ahead of all business goals and working toward profitability when the COVID-19 crisis struck.

Since shutting down, the gym has lost more than half of its members and now the monthly income is less than the lease on the property, Rachelle told me. It has been painful to watch the business wither, but it has been equally painful to hear the stories of members who are struggling with the shutdown and who no longer can come to the gym to recharge their mental and physical batteries.

What she finds most frustrating is that Johnson believes she can operate in a way that is healthy for members but under the current state plan, the county will have to be in Phase 4 for that to happen. Who knows when that will occur and whether that happens before the business is bankrupt?

Small businesses are the heart of our economy and our communities. A great many of them run on tight margins and with owners often pouring their hearts and souls into their enterprise. These are the unsung heroes of our communities.

The state response to keeping the public healthy throughout the ongoing coronavirus pandemic situation has been driven by enforcement and a one-size-fits-all, top-down mandated approach — an approach that is filled with inequities and inconsistencies. With most businesses under mandatory shutdown, online retailers and big multi-department stores have been very successful while small businesses have been left out in the cold. It’s OK for thousands of marchers to rub shoulders in protest but not OK to maintain six feet of social distancing from gym clients.

Rachelle is just one of many business owners who are in dire straits. It’s going to take more creativity than the state approach if we are going to strike a balance between responding to the pandemic and avoiding a massive societal meltdown.