Rep. Joel Kretz | It’s time to open our economy and trust the people

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I have been advocating, since last spring, for a local approach to reopening our economy.  I trust my local health departments and locally elected county officials to do the right thing for health and safety far more than I do Gov. Inslee or any other bureaucrat in Olympia.

In addition, the governor's Phase 1 and Phase 2 “regional” approach to reopening Washington ignores the unique needs, makeup and habits of rural areas.  Despite numerous letters and pleas from legislators, Inslee has chosen a very top-down approach to dealing with our economy, health, and the survivability – or lack thereof – of our small businesses.

In fact, when asked repeatedly about his plans for Phase 3 over the past few weeks, he had little answers and no direction (until a recent press conference on March 11).

However, I believe now is the time to safely reopen our economy and trust the people with their health and safety.  That's why I joined with several of my House and Senate Republican colleagues in putting forth our “Open Safe, Open Now” plan.

Our plan is simple, practical, and consistent.  It respects local control and trusts the people of Washington to do what is right for their health and safety.  We all know how to wear masks, wash our hands frequently, practice social distancing, and take better care of our overall health.  We trust citizens to continue in these efforts.

Our Phase 3 plan would immediately return all students K-12 to the classroom for in-person instruction.  We may never truly know the side effects of student isolation and not being in the classroom, from both a mental health aspect as well as an educational one.  But I'm betting they are not good.  However, we do know our kids learn better at school fulltime.  And we know – from scientific research – that they are not in danger of mass spreading of COVID while at school.

Additionally, our plan recognizes the immediate need to get people back to work, allow entrepreneurs the ability to thrive, and to allow our small businesses a chance to break even.  At 25% capacity, this is nearly impossible.

Our plan would open hospitality businesses, public venues, restaurants, bars, gyms, movie theaters, and other entertainment venues to 50% capacity.  Indoor weddings and other religious services, as well as professional services, would also be allowed to open to 50% capacity.

After a county has operated at Phase 3 for three weeks with no significant spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations, it would move to Phase 4 where all activities return to 100% capacity.  If a county health jurisdiction determines its county is not prepared to move to the next phase, county health officials would need to demonstrate why based on trends in case and hospital admission rates, ICU bed capacity, and the virus positivity rate.

Our plan takes into account the health, safety, and mental health, along with the economic prosperity, of all Washingtonians.  It places trust in the people, it focuses on local control rather than Olympia control, and provides some hope for the future financial stability of our working families.

I am glad the governor finally made public his plans for Phase 3 at his March 11 press conference.  Not surprisingly, much of it looks familiar as he took many of our suggestions.  However, his version of Phase 3 is delayed until March 22, and we still don't know all the businesses and activities it will apply to.  In addition, there are no guidelines for Phase 4 or any realistic expectation for when things can return to normal.

Washington workers and small business owners need clearly defined objectives and parameters for the next phases of reopening our economy.  Vague definitions and open-ended timelines create little trust with the people we serve and add to the stress and anxiety for many who are unemployed or behind on mortgage payments.

Washington citizens need a clear, concise plan that offers hope for the future of our state.  The governor's plan is close.  But…horseshoes and hand grenades.

(Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, is the Deputy Minority Leader and serves on the House Rural Development, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.)

State Representative Joel Kretz, 7th Legislative District
335A Legislative Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(564) 888-2361 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000