It came as some surprise that Governor Inslee imposed a statewide rollback in response to the increase in the COVID-19 infection rates.
We agree that the increased infection rates cannot be ignored; however, we feel the imposed restrictions are misguided and counter-productive. Despite our efforts to provide alternative strategies, the governor imposed restrictions on all forms of indoor gatherings as well as retail, hospitality businesses, fitness centers, and some indoor public venues.
We do not question whether action was needed, but rather, the action that was taken. Public policy is effective only when the public understands and supports the measures taken by their leaders.
At the statewide level, the Governor has limited resources to impose location-specific measures that are contributing to our infection rate. He has too blunt of an instrument to carry out the surgical measures needed in our community. We assert that a better model for implementing the necessary safety measures is to work more closely with local governments to address community specific problems. Since mid-summer, we worked with the Governor’s Office and the state Department of Health in an effort to lower community infection rates which peaked at just below 600/100,000 in August.
Our success was through engaging retailers and employers to embrace the messaging of masking, social distancing, and exercising proper hygiene techniques. By and large, our business community has done a tremendous job of ensuring the Governor's orders are followed — because they understand and support the rationale.
We know our community and we know where to focus our efforts. It is not possible to impose broad-brush restrictions statewide without negatively affecting those businesses that operate responsibly. It must be addressed through local measures.
There are social gatherings — formal and informal — that may contribute to the spread of COVID-19 because safety guidelines are not being met. A blunt statewide mandate will not address this problem. As with many public policies, there is the difficult balance in identifying the most appropriate levels of government to address the immediate concerns. But it can be done. A great example of this was the concerted effort at the local level — funded through federal and state support — to achieve a high level of masking compliance. Currently in Chelan and Douglas counties, we have public masking compliance over 90% with broad support for this measure.
COVID-19 is spreading in our counties, but not necessarily because of our businesses and employers.
For the past several weeks, we have heard from the medical community and the Department of Health that the cause of the increased transmission rates has not been in the areas that are currently the target of the Governor’s sanction, but the gatherings that are being held by citizens outside of a controlled environment.
Let’s focus our resources there! We believe that a combination of education, testing, and site-specific restrictions must be available to address these problems. Our region’s compliant businesses are to be engaged as crucial partners for us to address these problem areas.
The Recovery Council — which is a consortium of local government and business leaders spearheaded by the Chamber of Commerce — is a practical and effective means to focus on the site-specific challenges we have in our communities.
We have an opportunity to provide our communities a testing strategy that is offered in advance of the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, so that tested families can have the peace of mind they will be safe to meet and do their part to protect their loved ones and the community. By taking this approach, we change the narrative to one of hope and assistance from that of despair and overreach.
In our work over the past months with the Governor’s Office and Department of Health, we clearly recognize that there are no easy solutions. We also understand that we cannot continue to sacrifice our economic and social health in an effort to respond to our public health obligations.
This is not a one or the other; it is a one and the other. The top-down strategy instituted by the Governor will not result in the desired outcome.
Our hope is that there can be a shift in the strategy as suggested which will result in a greater public confidence and compliance and we, as Commissioners, are dedicated toward our continued work toward these challenges.
Chelan County Commissioners Doug England, Bob Bugert and Kevin Overbay
Douglas County Commissioners Dan Sutton, Marc Straub and Kyle Steinburg