Clallam County entrepreneurs on July 29 lamented Gov. Jay Inslee’s latest blow to reviving their economic health in the unrelenting face of COVID-19.
A day earlier, Inslee hit the pause button on his Safe Start program, indefinitely preventing counties from gradually reopening their economies.
He also announced further restrictions that took last week on fitness centers and on bars and restaurants, where indoor dining is limited to members of the same household.
Following the Clallam County Economic Development Council’s virtual “Coffee with Colleen” feedback event on July 29, EDC Executive Director Colleen McAleer said two distressed area residents — one a winery owner, the other an event planner — called her the day before, choking back tears.
“They were like, ‘I thought I had a plan to get through this, and I’ve been waiting for Phase 3, and now I think I need to give up’,” McAleer said.
“They are not envisioning an end of the tunnel before the money runs out.”
Participants in the hour-long EDC session included the 24th Legislative District’s three Democratic state legislators, all facing challengers in their re-election bids with state Reps. Steve Tharinger of Port Townsend and Mike Chapman of Port Angeles facing opponents in the top-two Aug. 4 primary.
State Sen. Kevin Van De Wege is on the Aug. 4 ballot against Republican Connie Beauvais of Joyce, whom he will also face in the Nov. 3 general election because it’s a partisan position.
Van De Wege said legislative relief could come next year in the form of business and occupation tax reform that Chapman has proposed in past legislative sessions.
McAleer said $1.3 billion to $1.4 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds are still available for Inslee to parcel out to local governments to help them respond to the pandemic, including by giving aid to local businesses.
Clallam County has received $4.2 million, Port Angeles $589,000, Sequim $231,000 and Forks $109,000.
Jefferson County, like Clallam now stuck in Phase 2, has received $1.75 million and Port Townsend $288,000.
“The fact that we haven’t spent all the money isn’t necessarily a bad idea,” Van De Wege said.
“We just heard a lot of business owners saying how they can only hang on for so long. Maybe by still having some money in reserve, we will be able to use that to help small businesses if we go in that direction or have a special session.”
Inslee’s new rule limiting indoor dining to same-household customers is impossible to enforce, said Ian Harrington, food and beverage manager at Cedars at Dungeness in Sequim.
“I become almost like a bouncer in my own restaurant to where I have to be, ‘Excuse me, can you back up 6 feet? Excuse me, can you put your masks on when you step up from the table?” Harrington said.
“What I was looking more from leadership is, the truth is, dining should be gone.
“What the governor is trying to do is, he is trying his best to keep our businesses open because the reality is that dining probably shouldn’t be happening right now.”
The new restaurant-bar regulations have been “a kick in the groin for all of us,” said Dale Dunning, owner of the Oasis Bar & Grill in Sequim, agreeing with others Wednesday that they were unenforceable.
“It gets disheartening,” he said.
Chapman, facing Republicans Sue Forde of Sequim and Daniel Charles Svoboda of Port Hadlock in the primary, said the 24th District, which includes Clallam and Jefferson counties and part of Grays Harbor County, is the oldest district by median age in the state.
People older than 60 are considered more likely than those younger than them to have serious complications from the coronavirus.
Chapman said he’s talked with regional and statewide business leaders, including those with the Association of Washington Business.
“What they all talk about is public health, wearing a mask, social distancing,” he said.
“I think the business community is really worried that, if we don’t convince the public of the seriousness of the virus, that they are going to continue to be in the vortex of reopening, of slowing down, reopening, slowing down,” he said.
“If we are really concerned about the rural economy, we’ve got to have kind of a 100 percent buy-in on public health and wearing a mask and social distancing,”
Under a statewide mandate, masks must be worn in public spaces or outside where 6 feet of physical distance is not possible; in elevators, hallways and shared spaces in apartment buildings and hotels; and in congregate settings such as nursing homes. Workers must wear face masks unless working alone or when the job has no in-person interaction.
Art Green is the owner of Anytime Fitness in Sequim, where, as of today, five individuals not including staff will be allowed for indoor fitness services.
Green noted Clallam County has had three hospitalizations for COVID-19. There have been no deaths.
Clallam has had 92 cases, three of which were reported Wednesday and 20 in the past week.
Jefferson County has had 51 cases and had gone 14 days without a new case as of Wednesday before the latest case was reported.
“Let the counties who are following protocol stay open,” Green said, adding he’s losing money by the month.
“I want things to be seen more on a micro level than statewide.”
Tharinger said a special legislative session has not been scheduled in part because four political caucuses in the House and the Senate and Inslee cannot agree on an agenda.
Tharinger is facing Republican Brian Pruiett of Carlsborg and Democrat Darren Corcoran of Elma in the primary. Republican Jodi Wilke withdrew from the race July 18.
“There are people out there that are politicizing whether you should wear a mask or not, politicizing whether they would use vaccines or not,” Tharinger said.
“That’s not helpful. That does not lead to a good place, so it’s just a very challenging time to deal with the virus itself and its impact on business, particularly in my view when issues are being politicized that shouldn’t be politicized.”