WENATCHEE — One goal of a COVID-19 recovery council the Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce established in early May was to remove barriers to businesses reopening.
Another was to prepare for the likelihood of a special legislative session this summer.
The chamber conducted a survey from late March through early April to gauge how businesses were doing and has put out another survey to see how things are now.
“We want to show the folks making decisions on how we recover from this what the impact was originally, what the impact is now, what businesses are feeling, what they’re saying,” Government Affairs Director Sasha Sleiman said. “We need to be able to speak as clearly and as succinctly as we can to the people who are making these decisions. A lot of these decisions are happening at the state level, and we need to be able to convey our story as a community. If people will take the survey, that would really help us be able to do that.”
Along with the localized survey, the chamber and recovery council have been working with a data company to better understand the economic crisis.
The council includes health care, government and business leaders. It has produced a recovery toolkit for businesses that includes information on physical distancing, protective gear, sanitation, employee training and checking for COVID-19 symptoms.
A Spanish version of the toolkit was printed and distributed, with masks, in the Latinx community. The chamber also worked with members of that community and Our Valley Our Future to spread the word to small-business owners who might not be chamber members.
The business survey and recovery kit are available on the chamber’s website at wenatchee.org/covid19update.
Sleiman said Chelan and Douglas counties have used CARES Act funding to buy face masks for business employees, and the recovery council is also looking to buy disposable masks for customers to use.
In addition, the recovery council is planning a random testing of 250 households in the valley starting in late June or early July. The testing is voluntary and would be done at the person’s nearest health care facility.
Chelan and Douglas counties are currently in a modified Phase 1 of the state reopening plan, while Grant and Okanogan counties are in Phase 2.
The “in-between” phase has been confusing for some, Sleiman said, so the chamber has been helping businesses navigate the guidelines and determine which ones apply to them.
“I’m really, really proud of the business community in the valley,” she said. “Everyone is doing their best to stay on top of all of this. Things do change very quickly, but the business community has been wonderful — helping each other out, asking us for guidance, asking the health district for guidance.”
State Sen. Brad Hawkins, R-East Wenatchee, is among the legislators asking Gov. Jay Inslee to call a special session.
Hawkins believes local governments and school boards should be the decision-makers when it comes to reopening.
“Even though (Inslee) has these four phases and this plan for the whole state, it’s still very much a top-down, Olympia-based set of directives,” he said. “I think we need to allow the local government leaders ... to make the decisions that their local communities have elected them to make and have entrusted them to make. Maybe they might not make drastically different decisions, but ultimately, I think there’d be a lot more support and buy-in if it’s from the local level.”
If a special session is called, Hawkins also hopes to explore giving the legislative branch more input into state directives.
“If we were successful in passing a law that would require legislative approval for any executive actions beyond 30 days, I think that would be a very good policy step,” he said. “We would need to get that bill all the way through the Legislature and the governor would need to sign it, of course. But I do believe in a special session we need to look at making reforms to the Emergency Powers Act so that the governor cannot basically just have a continuous set of ‘temporary’ orders.”